RALEIGH — Republican U.S. Senate candidate the Rev. Mark Harris said Thursday members of Congress shouldn’t agree to raise the debt ceiling unless any deal includes spending and tax cuts and adjusting part of the new federal health care overhaul law that applies to them.
The Baptist minister, speaking in front of the old Capitol building in downtown Raleigh, used rhetoric likely to appeal to the conservative base in May’s GOP primary. He’s one of at least four Republicans seeking the nomination, including state House Speaker Thom Tillis, to challenge Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan.
Harris blasted President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Hagan for lack of leadership during the shutdown, now in its second week.
Hagan and other Senate Democrats “have completely abdicated their responsibilities and are allowing this president to launch a politically motivated attack” on Republicans and taxpayers,” Harris said.
Republicans have tried to lay the blame on Obama and Senate Democrats for failing to reach a funding agreement through a GOP-labeled compromise that would include delaying the new health care law for a year or defunding it.
Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner countered late Thursday that it’s House Republicans who resorted to “political stunts” by passing bills that delayed the health care changes, not ending the shutdown.
Now the focus in Washington has moved to raising the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt limit, which the government says will be reached Oct. 17.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and other chamber Republicans met with Obama late Thursday, as Boehner sought a potential short-term debt fix, combined with negotiations on spending and other issues.
Harris said he “would not support raising the debt limit without a plan in place to reduce government spending, reduce taxes and grant the American people the same waiver from Obamacare” that Hagan has.
The disputed “waiver” is more a “patch” to help members of Congress and their personal staffs after the 2010 health care overhaul required them to use health care exchanges designated for uninsured Americans to find coverage. The requirement, inserted by a Republican senator, actually treated the congressional workforce unlike any other group, since workers with employer-offered policies don’t have to use the exchanges.
The Obama administration issued rules giving congressional members and staffs the standard federal contribution for their coverage. The House passed a funding bill the night before the shutdown began that in part would have required Congress and staff to pay the full expense of health insurance.
Tillis campaign spokesman Jordan Shaw said separately Thursday that Hagan and Senate Democrats are to blame for the “debacle” in Washington. “Our government should not be held to any different standards than our working families. That means starting with a budget and defunding Kay Hagan’s Obamacare,” Shaw said. Hagan voted for the health care law.
Other GOP primary candidates Dr. Greg Brannon and Heather Grant also support defunding the health care law.
Nothing “will drive up the national debt, threaten our economy and cause further destruction to jobs in this country like Obamacare,” Brannon said in a written statement Thursday night.
Weiner said “all of the candidates in this chaotic primary field support the shutdown strategy and are more interested in grandstanding ... than in finding commonsense, bipartisan solutions like Sen. Hagan has done.”