MOORE, Okla. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Tom Cole spent nearly three hours Tuesday telling unhappy voters why he opposes a nascent effort to defund the federal health care law at the risk of a government shutdown and why he doesn’t think it would succeed.
At times during the town hall-style meeting, the nearly 150 people attending broke into applause and shouts in support of legislation forcing a showdown that could lead to a government shutdown.
Cole, R-Moore, told The Associated Press that he believes a shutdown would lead to a loss of jobs for millions of people who work in civilian capacities at U.S. military installations, including Veterans Affairs centers and the nearby Tinker Air Force Base. He said Republicans hoping to maintain their majority in the U.S. House and win the Senate could pay politically as well and there might be a “backlash” against the GOP.
Cole told the crowd that a Republican president or Republican-majority Congress would have averted a plan like the federal health care overhaul that President Barack Obama has touted.
“A lot of what’s happened is we didn’t win the last two presidential elections and we didn’t win the Senate,” Cole said.
His explanation did not sit well with Charles Thompson.
“His main deal is you need to elect more Republicans,” Thompson said as he left the meeting. “The choice that they had for a Republican was the guy that created Obamacare in Massachusetts.
“So the two choices that you had was Obamacare or Massachusetts-care,” he said, referring to 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s health care overhaul as governor of Massachusetts.
Beth Groh, who was the first of dozens to raise the health care issue during the meeting with Cole, said she understands Cole’s response, but isn’t happy with it.
“It comes across as patronizing, that we don’t understand that this one vote is not going to get rid of Obamacare. I understand that,” Groh said. She added that she wants to “draw a line in the sand” with a symbolic vote to force a government shutdown.
“We’re tired of not having principled votes and letting the chips fall where they may,” she said.
The six-member, all Republican Oklahoma delegation is split on the effort to defund the federal health care law at the expense of a government shutdown, with Cole, Sen. Tom Coburn and Rep. Frank Lucas opposing such a threat and Sen. Jim Inhofe and Reps. Jim Bridenstine and MarkWayne Mullin supporting such a plan.
“Look, we all agree on what we’re trying to do. I mean we all want to see it defunded and don’t want to see it go into effect,” Cole said. “Occasionally people disagree about tactics. Personally I think shutting down the government is not productive. I don’t think it’s going to work.
“So you just keep up the fight, but you don’t do it in a way that changes the focus from Obamacare to ‘Who shut down the government and put all these people out of work?’” he said.
People at the meeting also asked Cole to defend his vote in the House not to challenge the National Security Agency’s secret collection of hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone records. The House rejected the challenge on a 217-205 roll call vote.
Cole said he believes the program was sound and rebuffed an estimated 50 terrorist attacks.
He has additional town hall meetings scheduled for Wednesday in Norman and Friday in Pauls Valley.