Arizona’s junior U.S. senator doesn’t like Obamacare.
But he’s not willing to risk shutting down the government just to defund it.
“I agree with the goal, but not the tactic,” said U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., referring to a refusal by some senators to pass a continuing budget resolution that they contend would defund Obamacare -- but also the entire federal government.
Flake also said that because much of Obamacare is funded with dedicated tax revenue, not the annual budget, failing to pass a continuing resolution would not have much impact.
“It would raise false expectations,” Flake said.
Flake’s remarks came Thursday before an audience of about 150 at a luncheon at Little America sponsored by the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce. His take on Obamacare is that it will collapse under its own weight without much need for a shove from Congress.
“When there is a building falling down, you get out of the way,” Flake said.
On another controversial initiative, comprehensive immigration reform, Flake said he was asked -- not volunteered -- to serve in the Gang of 8 that negotiated a compromise package, then steered it through hundreds of amendments in committee and on the Senate floor. The bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support, will boost border security to a level that he said Arizona needs, and it will create a path to citizenship that he said is vital to stabilizing the U.S. labor force.
“Even if I had written the bill all by myself, I would have included that path,” Flake said.
Flake also supports the Senate bill because it will expedite legal residency for foreign students who graduate from U.S. colleges with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.
“We ought to staple a green card to their diplomas,” Flake said.
The House to date has neither taken up the Senate bill nor come up with a bill of its own, and Flakes gives prospects for passage of comprehensive reform this year only a “50/50” chance.
Flake agreed with an audience member’s denunciation of the president’s “war on coal,” and he repeated his strong criticism of federal environmental regulations that require less pollutants linked to haze that are coming from the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station. Rather than invest at least $500 million in new pollution control technology, owners of the plant have proposed shutting down one of three units.
“We are looking closely at (the alternative proposal), but the side agreements seem based on Obama’s speeches, not on legislation or litigation,” he said.
On the deteriorating state of the nation’s forests, Flake praised efforts by Flagstaff to pay for thinning with public funds, but he noted that privately funded partnerships will be needed to pay for all the restoration work that is needed.
He said a bill he is sponsoring that would expedite Forest Service stewardship contracts with private businesses has received Democratic support in the Senate, and he is also hopeful that a decision on whether to transfer and proceed with the 4FRI stewardship contract here in northern Arizona will come down “in a couple of weeks.”
Flake, 50, who served six terms in the House and was elected to the Senate in 2012 after a bitterly fought campaign against Democrat Richard Carmona, said he remains optimistic about the prospects of reaching a so-called “grand bargain” on the budget deficit, in part because of divided government in Washington that forces compromise.
“Both parties have to hold hands and jump in together,” he said.