Updated at 12:25 p.m.
The head of the political arm of the Heritage Foundation said Wednesday that the federal government should raise the debt ceiling and fund the government only if Obamacare is fully defunded.
The comments, by Heritage Action for America CEO Micahel Needham, came during a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
“It’s going to fundamentally change the way of life for the American people and that is why we should raise the debt limit, fund the government, and not fund Obamacare,” Needham said.
Needham was asked which he thought was more of a danger to the country’s economy: Obamacare or a federal default caused by not raising the debt ceiling and the federal government not being able to its bill, not being able to send out social security checks.
“I don’t think that there’s any scenario in which the federal government does not make payments on the debt,” Needham said. “Goldman Sachs came out with something several days ago talking about that there’s different paystubs, a different cash-flow system at Treasury to pay interest on the debt. There have been two years since the last time we had a debt limit crisis.”
Needham’s comments are similar to ones made by some lawmakers who have said to varying degrees that a national default might not be that bad. Needham added that he thought warnings about a federal default was just “fear mongering.”
The Heritage Foundation has accused the Obama administration of unnecessarily “scaring seniors” on reaching the debt limit.
Needham’s comments are especially significant given how groups like Heritage Action and the Senate Conservatives Fund has successfully applied pressure over Republican lawmakers to go to extreme lengths to try and defund Obamacare — regardless of how unlikely the defunding effort would be or how much damage that effort might cause to the American economy.
Needham repeatedly argued Obamacare needed to be defunded and that there should be no deal to pass a continuing resolution to re-open the federal government if that resolution did not include a provision completely gutting Obamacare. The repeal of the medical device tax has been floated as a potential compromise between Republicans and Democrats.
Needham disagreed: “I think the medical device tax is kind of a laughable suggestion that shows the extent of cronyism in this town.”
On the campaign front, Needham demurred, saying his organization was not thinking about the 2014 elections.
“We are authentically a policy organization and so we’re not looking to do electoral accountability, we’re looking to do policy accountability. And we want an informed electorate that knows what their elected officials are doing in this town,” Needham said, adding if people hedge their votes on how Heritage scores politicians’ conservatism “that’s what they do but we are not an organization that’s going to send millions of dollars on a campaign or spend millions of dollars on campaign ads.”
Needham also shrugged off suggestions that the shutdown was caused by outside groups like Heritage Action pressuring lawmakers to only agree to continue to fund the government if Obamacare was defunded.
“The reason that we are currently in a government shutdown over Obamacare is not because we spent a couple hundred thousand dollars on Obamacare,” Needham said. “It’s that there are millions of Americans out there who actually stood up and went to town halls and had their voices heard. Would that a couple of (c)4s on the outside spending small amounts of money could force the Republican party to take a strong conservative stance. That’s not how it happened.”
In August, constituents strongly urged their lawmakers to make a serious push to defund Obamacare, Needham said.
“If this was just couple of groups putting pressure on House Republicans to stand strong on Obamacare, this would not have happened,” Needham said. “What happened was that over the course of August, people went home, they heard from their constituents, and they came back and voted to defund Obamacare.”
Needham’s comments also come as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) publicly showed no signs of coming to a deal that Democrats say they would agree to to avoid a shutdown. In the past Boehner’s compromises have been met with ire by conservatives in Congress and outside conservative groups.
Now, though, the House speaker is reportedly receiving praise from tea party House members who seemed to be the source of his criticism on the right. Needham said that Boehner is “absolutely” a strong conservative and leading a strong fight to defund Obamacare.