WASHINGTON — Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Orange County, the senior California Republican in Congress, was in office during the 1995-96 government shutdowns. He acknowledges that it hurt the GOP, but he sees the risk of another shutdown as "part of the game" of negotiating changes to the healthcare law he hates.
"There’s never any progress without risk," he told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, a freshman Democrat from the San Francisco Bay Area, was 15 when the federal government last shut down. Now 32 and the youngest member of the state’s congressional delegation, he recalls his disbelief back then.
"I’m in the same disbelief now that there are those who would want to shut down the government and put the greatest economy in the world at risk,’’ he told The Times.
The pair's views are typical of those held by many of their fellow party members from California.
Rohrabacher joined his Republican colleagues last week in voting to halt funding for President Obama’s signature healthcare law — a "rotten piece of legislation," the congressman calls it — as part of a bill needed to fund the government beyond Monday.
Although the veteran lawmaker said he did not want to see the government shut down, he said the vote was aimed at pressuring the White House to agree to make changes to the law.
"There’s never any compromise until the stakes are high," Rohrabacher said. "It’s better not to have the government shut down … but at the same time, would our country be better with major changes to Obamacare, if not repeal?"
Swalwell raised eyebrows last week on the House floor when he told Republicans to "wake up from this radical, ideological wet dream and come back to reality" in pursuing an end to Obamcare when "there is absolutely, as we all know, zero chance of it happening."
On Thursday, Swalwell said he may not have used the best language but had become frustrated with the GOP's repeated efforts to repeal the 2010 law.
"For 41 times, they’ve tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and I’ve bitten my lip," he said. "I guess No. 42 is my breaking point."
"My mom has washed my mouth out with soap," he joked.
Rohrabacher acknowledged that the 1995-96 shutdown, which came during a bitter budget impasse between President Clinton and congressional Republicans led by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, had hurt the GOP.
The issues in dispute then, he said, "were not as significant as Obamacare."
"Some people really want to get rid of Obamacare no matter what," Rohrabacher added. A majority of his constituents, he said, "fear that Obamacare will affect them in a bad way."
Asked what potential compromise there could be when Senate Democrats and Obama have vowed to fight efforts to cut off funding for the healthcare law, Rohrabacher shrugged and said, "We’ll see."
"I’m not in the leadership," he said. "I’m just one member. I’m keeping my options open."
But he sounded a note of optimism, saying he’s seeing more of a willingness to compromise among the GOP rank and file, "but not a willingness to surrender."
Swalwell called the Republican efforts to use the threat of a shutdown to defund Obamacare "a harsh and brutal tactic."
A government shutdown, he said, "wasn't received well 17 years ago when it happened, and it won’t be received well this time by the American people."