Ethics & Public Policy Center

Marco Rubio’s Folly

Published in Commentary Magazine on August 6, 2013



I’ve praised Senator Marco Rubio on many occasions. He is, in fact, one of the lawmakers I most like and admire. By all accounts he’s a person of some depth. All of which makes his arguments about shutting down the federal government unless the president agrees to defund the Affordable Care Act rather puzzling.

In an interview earlier this week, Senator Rubio made several arguments, including this one:

Look, I’m not attacking anyone directly. All I’m saying is that you cannot say you are against Obamacare if you are willing to vote for a law that funds it. If you’re willing to fund this thing, you can’t possibly say you’re against it.

So is that the new Rubio Standard? Are we to believe he supported every item funded in every budget bill he voted for while serving in the Florida legislature? Or that in the future he’ll support every program of every budget he votes for in the United States Senate?

Here’s a thought experiment: Assume that Rubio had a chance to vote for legislation that cuts the size of the federal budget by a quarter, that it does so by eliminating scores of liberal programs, but that it also maintains some federal dollars for Planned Parenthood. Does that mean Rubio, if he voted for the budget, would be “pro-choice”? Of course not. But that is precisely where his logic would place him. Of course Rubio’s real (and quite reasonable) position is, like all legislators, that no perfect budget exists and to vote in favor of a budget doesn’t mean you support every line item in it.

And based on the Rubio argument, why doesn’t he demand the House of Representative pass an amendment to the continuing resolution that (just for starters) nationalizes school choice and shifts Medicare to a premium support plan–and then say that if President Obama and Senate Democrats don’t sign the GOP wish list into law, Republicans are willing to shut down the federal government until they do? Why not threaten to shut down the federal government unless Obama agrees to the Ryan budget? Or does the Florida senator not have the courage of his conservative convictions?

Senator Rubio also made this claim:

[The Affordable Care Act] is the issue where we draw the line. I mean, we understand about all the other things but there’s an issue where you’ve got to draw a line in the sand and say this is it, I mean, on this issue we’re willing to fight no matter what the consequences, politically or otherwise.

Now think about that statement: “on this issue we’re willing to fight no matter what the consequences, politically or otherwise.” Really, now? Conservative should engage in a fight regardless of what the consequences are? Even if the consequences prove to be a set back in the efforts against the Affordable Care Act and, more broadly, the conservative cause? Even if in the real-world ObamaCare can’t be defunded and, in an effort to indulge that particular fantasy, significant political damage would be incurred by the failure? That hardly sounds like a conservative disposition to me.

Remember: The Affordable Care Act won’t be defunded unless and until the president and the Senate agree to it. If both sides dig in, if there’s a showdown and the federal government is closed down, the Affordable Care Act will not be defunded. Shutting down the government is within the power of the House of Representative–but defunding the ACA would require the House, the Senate, and the president to sign new legislation into law. So the Rubio & Co. strategy hinges on an obvious fiction–that Barack Obama and the Senate will agree to pull the plug on his signature (and historic) domestic achievement. Short of that, ObamaCare lives on.

Marco Rubio is trying to frame the debate this way: You agree with him and Senators Lee, Cruz, and Paul–or you don’t really and truly want to unwind the Affordable Care Act. Which means people like Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Tom Coburn are, at their core, ObamaCare supporters because they disagree with Senator Rubio’s approach. Or so saith Marco Rubio.

This is silly and a bit too self-congratulatory. The argument isn’t who finds the Affordable Care Act more detestable; it’s who is pursuing the more reasonable tactical approach to advance the conservative cause. I would argue it’s Ryan and Coburn and the vast majority of Coburn’s conservative colleagues.

It’s up to Mr. Rubio if he wants to be part of the Suicide Caucus. But he shouldn’t blame others who decline to join him.

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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