GONZALES, La. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy split with some hard-line members of the GOP on Wednesday, saying he wouldn't support a federal government shutdown as a way to defund President Barack Obama's health care law if the move would stop defense spending.
The Republican congressman, who is running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in the 2014 election, said he would prefer an up or down vote specifically on whether to pay for implementation of the law, which was passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress in 2010.
But when pressed to clarify his position, Cassidy said he won't vote against legislation to continue paying for U.S. government services beyond Sept. 30 if such a vote would also defund military programs, as it likely would do.
"If funding for Obamacare ends up being wrapped into other things such as funding for the military, then I have to support things such as funding for the military," the Baton Rouge lawmaker said, after speaking to a local home builders association.
The issue divides Republicans, some of whom say a shutdown could damage GOP candidates at the polls and create a backlash from voters. Louisiana's Republican senator, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, has said he will support a government shutdown rather than agree to pay for the Affordable Care Act.
Cassidy wouldn't directly say that he opposed a government shutdown.
"It depends on what you mean by shutting down the government. If you mean that the guys on active duty don't get bullets, or that their spouses who are stateside don't have a check to pay their rent, I am not willing to do that," he said. "But you're asking me to imagine what a bill looks like, and I can't do that."
To the builders group, Cassidy mainly talked about flood insurance rates, which are skyrocketing and have become a high-profile problem for many Louisiana residents.
At issue are homeowners whose flood insurance bills have historically been "grandfathered" at lower rates since they followed the rules in place at the time they bought or built their home.
Under a bipartisan overhaul of the flood insurance program last year, many of these homeowners face higher premiums when new flood maps are issued.
The change was designed to cut the federal government's costs for the National Flood Insurance Program. Louisiana officials say as FEMA draws new flood maps that determine the insurance rates, officials aren't taking into account locally-built protection efforts like levees.
Cassidy spoke of his efforts to lower flood insurance rates for homeowners and noted his approach has been more successful than the legislation sought by his Senate race opponent.
Cassidy got a temporary fix through the House that would delay the higher premiums for one year, while Landrieu couldn't get her long-term proposal for a three-year delay moving.
Under pressure from local Louisiana officials, Landrieu pushed Cassidy's one-year reprieve idea in the Senate and succeeded in advancing it in the Senate as part of a homeland security spending bill.
But Landrieu's not acknowledging the idea started with Cassidy.
"She took the exact same language as the Cassidy amendment — which for some reason she doesn't call the Cassidy amendment — but she took that exact same language and put it on a Senate bill. That's good," Cassidy told the group of about 75 people assembled in a banquet hall.