ALPINE — Sen. Mike Lee said Thursday it's just a matter of time until he's proven right for choosing to help lead the battle against the new health care law that led to the just-ended 16-day federal government shutdown.
In an exclusive interview with KSL-TV and the Deseret News at his Utah County home, Lee said he had no regrets about his role in the budget battle settled Wednesday night as the nation was about to default on its unpaid debts.
"I think time will tell whether or not this effort was worth it, whether or not the amount of effort we put into this was justified. I think it was, and I think time will prove that," the state's junior senator, a Republican, said.
Lee, whose term doesn't end until 2016, has raised about $250,000 since starting what many saw as an unwinnable effort to stop or at least stall the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, during the summer.
He said the high-profile fight alongside Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other members of the tea party caucus in Congress was "absolutely not" about fundraising but instead about protecting people against the health care law.
Anyone who wants to criticize them "for proceeding in a fight we weren't certain we could win, then they've got a fair point," Lee said. "But there are some battles that need to be fought regardless."
Only two members of Utah's congressional delegation, Rep. Jim Matheson, the only Democrat, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, didn't go along with Lee in opposing the deal that provided funds to reopen the government through Jan.15.
"It was the right thing to do. You know, you have to act like adults around here someday," Hatch said, citing the threat of defaulting on paying the nation's bills had the legislation not passed.
Hatch, who won what he said last year would be his final term, said he did not blame his fellow Republicans who voted against the deal, saying they likely feared political retribution from tea party activists.
But he did raise questions about the motives of those behind the effort to use the budget battle against the health care law, without mentioning Lee by name.
"My problem with those who were fighting to take us into default wasn't that they weren't sincere or that they weren't right about Obamacare. Every Republican is against Obamacare. We're all against it," he said. "But there was no endgame."
Matheson, who initially supported Lee's efforts, said continuing the fight long enough to shut down the government and teeter toward defaulting on debt was irresponsible.
"I think a lot of people were playing political games, but at the end of the day, we have government opening. We got to pay our bills," Matheson said.
He said a majority of Americans thought the ploy was a bad idea.
So did most Utahns, according to recent polls. A Deseret News/KSL poll found that 57 percent of Utahns didn't think it was worth shutting the government down as part of the effort to stop Obamacare.
Lee said his message to them is that they are "going to start to see more and more people suffering" under the health care law that had a rocky launch at the beginning of the month, and more support for his position.
"The more fuel that gets added to the fire on that, the more we see there really is an emerging consensus," Lee said. "People will see that this law is causing people harm and that it's not going to change, that it's not going to go away."
Utah's Republican House members all said they all considered voting for the deal passed Wednesday night but decided it didn't do enough to solve ongoing spending issues.
"It just exacerbates the problem," Rep. Jason Chaffetz said. "I have the greatest respect for those who voted yes. I can understand that, and I almost did vote yes. But I prayed about it, I thought about it and I just couldn't do it."
Rep. Rob Bishop called the bill a bad deal.
"All it does is present the same opportunities for a shutdown in three months," Bishop said. "It doesn't really solve anything."
Rep. Chris Stewart said he was confident his vote wasn't needed to end the shutdown.
"It was a hard vote for me," Stewart said, expressing optimism that progress will be made on the budget before the next deadline.
The freshman lawmaker was less sure there would be any significant changes to the health care law, at least while President Barack Obama remains in office.
"The president has made that very clear," Stewart said. "I can't imagine circumstances where he'd be willing to do that."
Contributing: Richard Piatt and Andrew Adams
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