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Oklahoma lawmakers predicted futility of Obamacare fight, but went along

Despite deep misgivings last summer about trying to defund the Affordable Care Act through a must-pass spending bill, two Oklahoma Republicans with thousands of federal employees in their districts have supported the House efforts.
by Chris Casteel Published: October 15, 2013

As he prepared to leave town on Saturday, the 12th day of the partial government shutdown, Rep. James Lankford was clearly ready for a resolution.

“I didn't want it to get to this point, and I didn't want it to last this long if it did,” the Oklahoma City Republican said.

His colleague, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, expressed cautious optimism on Saturday that Senate leaders would be able to craft a deal that would avoid default on the nation's debt and get the government “up and operational.”

Both men have thousands of federal workers in their districts — at military bases, field offices for federal agencies and the Federal Aviation Administration center. Though most Defense Department civilians have returned to work, other agencies are still mostly shuttered.

Both men saw it coming, and both helped it along.

Over the weekend, they and all House Republicans were relegated to the sidelines as Senate leaders took on the task of negotiating a deal to extend the debt ceiling and reopen the government.

“The grown-ups are now trying to resolve this,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Monday, as the framework of a Senate deal emerged.

Warnings proved correct

At town hall meetings in August, Cole and Lankford warned that the tea party strategy to defund the Affordable Care Act through a must-pass spending bill wouldn't achieve its purpose.

They weren't the only ones. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, has been an outspoken skeptic of the strategy since the outset, saying it would only raise unreasonable expectations and ultimately fail.

At a gathering in Moore, Cole even predicted the sequence of events: The Republican-controlled House would pass a bill to fund all of government except the health care act — also known as Obamacare — and the Democratic-controlled Senate would send the bill back without the Obamacare provisions.

It would then be up to the House, Cole said in August, whether to shut down the government.

“I think politically that's an extremely dangerous thing to do,” he said in Moore. “And I don't think it will work ... I think it will only damage the economy and hurt a lot of innocent people.”

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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