Rep. Steve King Vows to Keep Fighting to Completely Defund Obamacare Even if GOP House Passes CR That Doesn’t

By Terence P. Jeffrey | February 18, 2011 | 1:36 AM EST

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, holds a copy of the health care bill, trussed in sturdy rope, in front of the U.S. Capitol during a Republican news conference on Nov. 5, 2009. (AP File Photo/Alex Brandon)

( - Rep. Steve King told in an interview late Thursday afternoon that he will keep fighting to completely defund Obamacare in this fiscal year even if—as expected—the final amended text of the continuing resolution the House was considering Thursday to keep the government funded after March 4 does not completely defund Obamacare.

King explained the process by which the House Republicans moved toward rejecting at this time King’s proposals to completely defund Obamacare in the current fiscal year (which runs through Sept. 30), and explained additional opportunities for defunding Obamacare as the year goes forward.

King said he believed this was the optimum time for opponents of Obamacare to have a showdown with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) and President Barack Obama over effectively terminating the program--something the House can do by completely choking off its funding.

The transcript of’s interview with King is printed below. Click here to listen to the audio: Editor in Chief Terry Jeffrey: Let’s talk about this continuing resolution. Now, congressman, back last Tuesday, one of our reporters, Matt Cover, attended Majority Leader Eric Cantor pen-and-pad briefing and he asked Cantor this question. He said, quote, ‘Leader Cantor, when that bill comes to the floor’—meaning the CR--‘will there be any funding for the health-care reform law in it?’

And Cantor said: “Will there be any funding for the health care law in it? If you're referring to perhaps the discussion about Mr. [Denny] Rehberg's insistence about making sure we do away with any funding for ObamaCare, I expect to see one way or the other the product coming out of the House to speak to that and to preclude any funding to be used for that.’

Now, congressman, a little bit later in that same pen-and-pad briefing another reporter wanted to clarify and make sure that he understood exactly what Leader Cantor was saying. He asked this question. He said, quote, “I just want to clarify your answer to an earlier question. Are you saying that before the bill leaves the House you expect the CR to include language prohibiting the use of money for the health-care-reform bill?’

And Cantor answered: ‘Yes.’

Now, what I want to ask you is this continuing resolution that they are debating on today and they are going to vote on soon, is it going to follow through on what Eric Cantor said and is it going to, quote, have language prohibiting the use of money for the health care reform bill?

Rep. Steve King (R.- Iowa): Yes, and  Terry, what he said, when I listened to the precise language two responses: I think he’s telling it exactly the way it’s most likely to unfold here. But my clause to that, or my caveat, is that the Rehberg amendment only gets about $31 million, only shuts off about $31 million, and it’s all that he can get done and be assured that he’s in order under the parliamentary rules. My amendment takes out $105 and a half billion with a ‘b,’ and that’s the automatic appropriations that were written into Obamacare that it looks like unless there is some challenge to the point of order that we are not going to be able to get at that. And there’s other wages and expenditures that are also we would like to get at but we just can’t because of the parliamentary rules. So I guess that’s the answer. I hesitate a little bit because I am far from satisfied, from what we might have been able to accomplish. But I think his answer is a straight up one and he defines what’s going on.

Jeffrey: Let me make sure I understand that. This CR will fund the government for the rest of fiscal 2011 after March 5. Is that correct?

King: Yes. And that is what it is designed to do.

Jeffrey: So if this continuing resolution, if a continuing resolution, is not passed by both the House and Senate and signed by President Obama by March 4, the next day the Executive Branch is not authorized to spend money out of the Treasury?

King: That’s right. All of that comes to a halt immediately, and how they would deal with that I don’t know. But what I expect will happen is that we will pass this CR, Cantor calls a global CR, and pass it over to the Senate. The Senate either won’t take it up or send us something that we can’t pass here, and I suspect we will come back in the first days I March, and then that Monday, the first, I think it is, and pass a short-term CR and then go back to work again.

Jeffrey: Okay, but the CR that the House is preparing to pass now, what you expect, if that CR were actually to pass through the Senate and go to the president and be signed there would still be a flow of federal tax dollars going to the implementation of Obamacare as of March 5?

King: Absolutely. That would continue. And that whole $105.5 billion dollars, with the exception of perhaps the $31 million in the Rehberg amendment, and it’s possible that there could be an amendment or two of mine that could be ruled in order that would be helpful. But in the end if you analyze it in that if you vote for the CR I think that you can’t be charged with voting to continue funding for the implementation of Obamacare, but that is a great opportunity that we are in the verge of missing.

Jeffrey: All right, so the way it is trending right now is that the Republicans are going to pass a CR that will not prohibit all funding of Obamacare. It will allow some funding to go forward?

King: That’s right.

Jeffrey: And the distinction between these two revenue streams is that one stream of revenue flowing to Obamacare is quote-unquote discretionary spending and the other flow of money is mandatory? Is that correct?

King: Well, the thing that they have defined as ‘mandatory spending,’ I think that is a made-up term they’ve applied to this that they have just pulled out of our vernacular.  The thing that they have been calling mandatory spending I would say that is automatic appropriations, automatic spending, that has been written into Obamacare. It’s just it’s never been expended before, so that therefore I wouldn’t call it mandatory spending. But it’s automatic appropriations.

Jeffrey: Now, why can’t the Republican just say in this CR, take your language, and say we are not going to fund this money. We are going to cut off all funding to Obamacare. It’s dead on March 5. Why can’t they do that?

King: That is what I wanted written into the bill. That’s what I wanted amended in the Appropriation Committee that was working up the CR.  So I couldn’t have an amendment offered in the Appropriations Committee. If they had written it into the rules, we could have easily done it. When I brought it before the Rules Committee, they turned me down. That was my last stop to procedurally get this thing done. And they seem to be stuck on the rule rather than in the policy. And my argument is fidelity to a rule that you have written yourselves is trumping your oath to uphold the Constitution in this unconstitutional Obamacare bill?

Jeffrey: Now, there is a House rule they claim that prevents them from actually acting on your amendment that would prohibit funding of Obamacare?

King: Well—

Jeffrey: They make that claim?

King: They make the claim that I am legislating on an appropriations bill. That would be it, wouldn’t’ it?

Jeffrey: And that’s a rule? Of the House?

King: Yes. It’s a parliamentary rule.

Jeffrey: Now, who can change that parliamentary rule?

King: Well, we could change it by bringing an amendment to rules to the floor and have a vote. Nancy Pelosi did that on several occasions. I don’t think we should actually change that rule for this. They can waive it. I can offer my amendment, later on tonight, which I expect I will. If someone would reserve a point of order, we would debate it, then they would insist upon their point of order, and at that point the parliamentarian would rule, and I have been advised that they will rule that I am out of order with my amendment.  At   someone could appeal the ruling of the chair, and there might be a motion to table, and if then that motion to table fails, then we vote on the appeal. And we could vote down the ruling of the chair, but it takes us to the point where—and I am not very comfortable with that—because it takes us to the point where the majority rules no matter what the rules are. I think that the mistake was made on this not before this Congress now, but by not allowing my language to be written into the bill, and by not allowing the Rules Committee to protect my amendment.

Jeffrey: Let me roll you back on that congressman. Let’s say that we wanted to be absolutely deferential to the House rules, which are determined by the majority of the people in the House, so that given that if they wanted to, if they thought it was a prudent thing to do, the Republican majority could change the rule. But let’s stipulate that you don’t want to do that, and that’s not going to be done. But go back to before the Appropriations Committee actually writes this continuing resolution. In keeping with your understanding of the House rules, at that moment what could have been done within the House rules to defund Obamacare?

King: They could have easily written my language into the bill.

Jeffrey: And you believe simply putting your language into the bill in the first place in the Appropriations Committee would have been consistent with the House rules as they now stand?

King: Yes, I am certain of that. In fact, they addressed Obamacare in four places in the CR doing procedurally the same thing that I asked them to do.

Jeffrey: So in effect they were legislating on Obamacare in this appropriations bill anyway, but they didn’t want—

King: Over and over again.

Jeffrey: Only they didn’t want your legislation which would absolutely kill it, at least for the rest of this fiscal year?

King: Terry, that’s a fact.

Jeffrey: Now, who is responsible for having made the—obviously, technically, it would be the majority of people on the Appropriations Committee—but who is responsible for making the decision that not killing Obamacare by defunding it, by writing your language into the bill in the Appropriations Committee, would not be done. Who made that decision?

King: It wasn’t an Appropriation Committee decision even technically, because they didn’t go through committee. They wrote the bill--technically, you can say that the chairman of the Appropriations Committee Hal Rodgers is the guy that approved it. But here is how this works: Leadership sits down and talks about it and staff writes the bill. And they take advice from staff, too.

Jeffrey: So, we’re saying House Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor, basically, they have the authority in the House majority to make the call on this? What’s actually going to be in the language of the bill that comes out of the Appropriations Committee?

King: Yes. And I think what happened was that they did not--I just don’t think they fully understood the implications of not taking this step, and I don’t think they understood   how much money was involved. And we had been digging into this for some--actually I laid out the strategy nine or ten months ago--we had been digging into this bill for a long time and I had estimated that this was a number that approached or exceeded $100 billion, but I didn’t have the hard number until late last week we were going back and forth with CRS  and they would give us numbers, we plug them in the spread sheet, and we would go back and forth, and finally we ended up with a total and adjusted that total, and they produced a report last Friday that has the $105.5 billion in it that are automatically appropriated. If I had had that CR report in my hand say a week or two weeks earlier, I would have had something that I could have waved around and pounded the table with. And I just don’t think they accepted my numbers and therefore they decided not to take my advice on this, my push, my legislation.

Jeffrey: But then over and above the sheer dollar amount, there is the question of being able to actually kill Obamacare and prevent the implementation from moving forward, which they decided not to do at this point.

King: That’s true. They decided not to, and I think if they had a do over they would do it.

Jeffrey: And also, congressman, given all the criticism of the lack of transparency in the Nancy Pelosi-led Congress and in the Obama administration, why did the Republicans, considering the crucial nature of this funding bill, not have open hearings where the American people could see the process by which the bill was put forward and members of the committee could offer amendments or language inside the committee and we could have a public debate about how this thing was being formulated.

King: Well, I think, Terry, the CR was coming up fast, they wanted to get it dealt with quickly, and I wish they would have had. And I don’t know the reason why they didn’t go to full committee mark ups. But, you know, they went directly to the Rules Committee and the floor with the repeal, which is HR 2.  And this one they went directly to the Rules Committee and to the floor with the CR, which is HR 1.

Jeffrey: Now, after they made the decision not to put in the language to actually prohibit      after March 4, you say they could have rectified that in the Rules Committee in keeping with the spirit of the rules. How could they have done that?

King: They would have written a modified open rule, and just written a waiver into the rule language that would have allowed my amendment to be in order. And it waives the point of order against my amendment. And they will do that, Terry, they will do that sometimes, multiple times between now and the end of the 112th Congress.

Jeffrey: They will waive the rule for a specific amendment. So essentially, they would have been saying although we want to stand by this historic rule of the House that we are not going to legislate in appropriations bills, in this one circumstance for Rep. King’s amendment we’re going to waive that rule and allow it to go forward and give it a simple up or down vote in the House. And you are saying that is not something that is totally anomalous, and that this sort of thing is in fact done by the Rules Committee.

King: It is done routinely by the Rules Committee, and will be done by the Rules Committee for the duration of this Congress multiple times. I am convinced of that.

Jeffrey: Well, given that the Republicans won a majority of the House because among other things people wanted to get rid of Obamacare, why weren’t they ready to go forward with that simple waiver and allow your amendment to come up without a point of order?

King: Well, that’s all they would have had to do. And you might ask them—You know the question that is hanging out there is: Were they ready for a confrontation with the president and Harry Reid on this issue? And that is a question that hangs in my mind. I don’t know that answer. I am ready for that confrontation. We must have it if we are going to eliminate Obamacare.

Jeffrey: Congressman, when we talked about this earlier, I believe you said that if they had this conflict over whether to stop Obamacare by defunding it or not, ultimately either the Democrats would have to blink or the House Republican majority would have to blink. Is the House Republican majority blinking right now and saying we don’t want that ultimate conflict with the Democrats over Obamacare now? We are going to punt. We’ll do it later.

King: I think, Terry, I think that they thought they had plenty on their plate with the $100 billion issue and so it got to be too big a mountain for them at the time. So whether it is blinking, or whether it’s trying to pick another time to do this fight, I want to be cautious about how I say that. But I will say this: If you are going to fight a battle, politically or militarily, you want to choose the terrain on which you fight, and the CR was the terrain on which to fight, in my opinion. It is the maximum leverage point we have. The second thing you want to do is pick the time of the battle when your army is at maximum strength. We’ve already passed that point as Republicans here, and we won’t be as strong next week as we are today. So I am concerned about finding another piece of terrain on which to fight. The debt ceiling is one of them. But for anybody who wants to promise me that I can bring the same thing on any appropriations bill, all the same rules apply on every appropriations bill, so it is going to be equally hard to get my language on, except that we expect to have mark ups in subcommittee and committee and maybe we have a chance to get some language in some of them then.

Jeffrey: Let me make sure I understand this, congressman. If this CR passes by March 4, and, as you expect, it does not absolutely prohibit all funding of Obamacare and allows a stream of funding to go forward that would have been stopped by your bill, you will have opportunities on the legislation to lift the debt ceiling and on other appropriations bills to put in language that would in fact stop Obamacare in its tracks during this fiscal year?

King: Well, during this fiscal year, yes, the debt ceiling would be that vehicle. But the balance of the appropriations bills, other than the CR, will be appropriations for the next fiscal year.

Jeffrey: Okay, so if this CR that needs to pass by March 4, if it doesn’t have your language, as you suspect it will not, then Obamacare is in fact funded and will move forward for the rest of this fiscal year, through September 30, 2011, unless you have that one opportunity in the bill to lift the debt ceiling—the Republican leadership comes back and says, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s defund Obamacare now.’ That’s your one shot?

King: That’s the best shot. But if we have to do a short-term CR because this one doesn’t pass, the one we are on now. We could end up doing a series of short-term CRs. This could be a big political vehicle out here, this CR we are debating right now. We could be doing a series of short-term ones, two weeks long, 30 days long. Each one of those would be potential responsibilities. So I will be trying to work on every single one of them. And I will be also sitting down with the leadership team and laying out a strategy on a continuum of a calendar and a legislative agenda, so we can plan further in advance and be able to pick some spots, not a better spot because I don’t think there will be a better spot. I want to see every opportunity that is out there and far enough in advance that we have a chance to use it.

Jeffrey: So, in other words, congressman, if this CR passes the House tonight or tomorrow, even without your prohibition on funding for Obamacare, the Senate might reject this language, and the president might reject it, so the issue comes back to the House and you might end up with a shorter term funding bill that gives you additional chances this year--is that what you are saying--to defund Obamacare.

King: Yes. Yes, absolutely.

Jeffrey: Excellent.

King: And I will work to use every vehicle possible. And I think we have opened up a dialogue with leadership and a far, far better understanding of the magnitude of Obamacare’s automatic spending.

Jeffrey: Congressman, thank you very much. I appreciate your time, and the information that you have given us.

King: Thank you very much, Terry. I appreciate it a lot and look forward to the next time.