SPANISH FORK — It was standing room only 10 minutes before a town hall meeting with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was set to begin Wednesday evening.
With a line of about 50 people out the door, organizers had to move the roughly 500 people into a room double the size they originally anticipated they would need.
People lined the walls of the room and crowded in the back to show support for Lee and voice their concerns about several issues, including Senate term length and immigration reform.
But many wanted to talk about Lee's effort to stop President Barack Obama's health care law by taking funding for it out of the annual appropriations bill that Congress must pass by Oct. 1 to keep the government running.
David Moor, of Lehi, told Lee he applauded his efforts to halt the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, before it goes into effect, but asked him how he plans to succeed.
Lee responded by saying he would like to enact a continuing resolution into law that would keep the government funded but cut Obamacare.
“A lot of people have blatantly mischaracterized it as a shutdown threat,” Lee said. “It is not.”
Lee said he is not threatening a government shutdown, which could delay Social Security payments, soldiers' paychecks and a wide range of federal services.
Instead, the state's junior senator said, it will be up to the Democratic majority in the Senate to choose between a funding bill that does not include money for Obamacare or shutting down the government.
He said those who bring up the term "shutdown" show they’re willing to shut down the government “if we don’t give them what they want, and I say that’s not fair.”
Samantha Jensen, a 15-year-old from Spanish Fork, asked, "If you don't want a shutdown, why are you proposing a bill that will do just that, that will shut down the government if they don't defund Obamacare?"
Lee responded by saying he has "never, ever, ever proposed a shutdown" and that he is proposing the opposite. He said if Obamacare passes, it will make insurance unaffordable, and that would be "fundamentally unfair."
Devin Plowman, a Provo resident, asked Lee what he would do if he doesn't succeed in defunding Obamacare.
"If it does kick in, we'll look for every opportunity to stop it," the senator said. "I will say it will be really, really difficult at that point."
Lee said if Obamacare goes into effect, it will cost employers thousands of dollars and leave employees with fewer hours or without a job as employers try to avoid the "harsh ramifications."
Cheryl Lindsey, an Eagle Mountain resident, asked Lee how he would get the support he needs from other senators.
Lee said he will continue to fight until the last possible moment to stop what he said is important to 3 million Utahns. He called the people to action and said together they can stop the law from taking effect.
The town hall meeting is one of five Lee has scheduled in the state during the congressional recess. The senator is set to be in Plain City on Thursday, Tooele on Tuesday, Farmington on Aug. 28 and Kanab on Sept. 5.
A New York Times editorial posted online Tuesday said the push by Lee and other GOP senators affiliated with the tea party movement, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, is losing steam.
The editorial stated "a growing group of Republicans is saying no to the strident extremists who want to shut down the government this fall if health care reform is allowed to proceed."
Cited were concerns raised by a number of Republicans, including former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, that threatening a government shutdown could cause Republicans to lose control of the House in the 2014 elections.
But Lee spokesman Brian Phillips said the 14 senators who have signed on to the effort are just a start.
He said FreedomWorks and four other tea party and conservative groups are urging activists around the country to show up at their congressional town hall meetings to demand backing for the defunding proposal.
Also, Phillips said, there will be a "big push" in Washington, D.C., once Congress returns in September, including rallies. Lee has said in fundraising emails that despite critics, "the American people are overwhelmingly on our side."
A recent poll of Utah political insiders by Utahpolicy.com and KSL found that 46 percent of Republicans believed Lee's effort made him and his supporters "look foolish and another 6 percent said it "damaged the party by dividing lawmakers."
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said he expects Lee will find support in the town hall meetings even though that may not reflect the majority of voters.
"What we've seen in probably the majority of these town hall meetings is by and large the people who are motivated to attend are more supportive," Burbank said. "The position he has staked out on that is not clearly supported in his own party."
None of the meetings Lee is holding are in Salt Lake County, the state's largest and most liberal county.
"You'd be much more likely to run into opposition if you did one in Salt Lake County," Burbank said.
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