Gov. Herbert: Sen. Lee's effort to stop health care law may hurt GOP

Published: Thursday, Aug. 22 2013 4:40 p.m. MDT

Sen. Mike Lee speaks as he holds one of a series of hour long town hall meetings at the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee's effort to halt funding for the nation's new health care law doesn't have much chance of being successful and is hurting Republicans, Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday.

"If we are accused of shutting down government, then the concern for many Republicans is that they'll be punished at the ballot box in the upcoming elections. That's a legitimate concern," the governor said.

During the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7, Herbert repeatedly criticized the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, as too divisive and too costly.

"(Lee is) taking some extraordinary steps to say, 'I'm going to force us to push the reset button,'" the governor said. "It's just a matter of which way are we going to approach fixing this."

The governor said Lee doesn't seem to have "enough support to get it done. And all it gets is some people angry, and if that's the case, it will hurt us politically. It is a way, but it doesn't look like it will be successful."

At the first of a series of town hall meetings in Utah on Wednesday, Lee defended his plan to take funding for the health care law out of the appropriations resolution that must pass Congress by Oct. 1 to keep the government running.

He has said repeatedly he is not threatening to shut down the government. Instead, Lee said, the Democratic majority in the Senate can choose between a funding bill that excludes the health care law or a government shutdown.

Lee's effort, endorsed only by a dozen senators so far, has already been criticized by a number of prominent Republicans, including former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

"There is a debate among Republicans," Herbert said. "I think what unites everybody is they believe the Affordable Care Act is flawed, of which I do, I agree. The Affordable Care Act is a flawed piece of legislation.'

But Herbert said being tied to a possible government shutdown isn't the way to go "if you want to win the war, not just the battle." He said a way to start over on health care needs to be found, "and it would be nice if it were bipartisan."

The governor also questioned Salt Lake County GOP Chairman Chad Bennion's description of Sim Gill, the county district attorney and a Democrat, as a "cop hater" whose childhood experiences in India has tainted his judgement.

"I don't think he said it very well. What I don't like is this is a tough issue," Herbert said of the ruling by Gill that two West Valley City detectives were not justified in the shooting death of 21-year-old Danielle Willard.

"This ought not to be politicized," he said, describing the difficult jobs of both law enforcement and the district attorney. Asked after the taping if Bennion should resign, the governor said that's a decision for the county GOP to make.

Bennion has stood by his statements. He had been expected to apologize Wednesday at a news conference called by Utah GOP Chairman James Evans, but Bennion did not attend, saying later only that he agreed with Evans' support for law enforcement.

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