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Nov. 06--MOUNTAIN VIEW -- The nation's new health care law is disastrous and couldn't be allowed to take effect without a fight, a key architect of last month's government shutdown said Tuesday night.
"This law, Obamacare, is emblematic; it is the poster child of progressivism," Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint told the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley. "It's not about good health care, it's about control. That's what progressivism is all about: 'I can help you, but only if I control your life.'"
The former U.S. senator from South Carolina told about 500 forum members and guests at the Portuguese International Fellowship of Evangelical Students Hall that they represent the activist flame that is the nation's best hope for the future.
"Conservatism is not being bound to the past, but it's building on the things in the past that worked, and it's staying plugged into those things that make life better today," he said. "We're conserving those things that make this country work."
One thing DeMint did not mention Tuesday night was that a key part of the health care law -- the individual insurance mandate -- emerged from the Heritage Foundation in the late '80s.
A South Carolina congressman before he was elected to the Senate in 2004, DeMint founded the Senate Tea Party Caucus as well as the Senate Conservatives Fund, a PAC supporting conservative candidates even in primary races against Republican incumbents.
In a surprise move, he resigned from the Senate in January to take the Heritage Foundation job. But by turning the renowned conservative think tank into a powerful influence on Congress with a take-no-prisoners approach to governance, DeMint might wield more muscle now than he ever did as an elected official.
"The reason I left the Senate early -- and I had four more years in my second term ... -- is that the action is outside of Washington," he said. "They have no power at all if we come together."
DeMint recounted the 2011 fight to tie a plan to cut, cap and balance the federal budget to raising the nation's debt ceiling.
"We got a fight going; we stirred things up," and that resulted in the Budget Control Act and the automatic budget "sequestration" cuts that took effect at the start of this year, he said. "We took this to the mat and said we weren't going to give in on it, and so we made a little progress."
The 2011 showdown also led to the nation's first-ever credit downgrade.
This year, he said, Heritage decided that defunding the new health insurance law was the most important priority. The foundation's political arm, Heritage Action for America, spent big this summer on ads targeting House Republicans who hadn't signed a letter urging Speaker John Boehner to tie a repeal of the law to a budget continuing resolution -- which Boehner finally did.
"They were criticizing us, but at least they were talking about Obamacare," DeMint said. "We could not let something like this go through without a fight."
As a shutdown neared, Heritage Action threatened to count votes on a "clean" resolution to fund the government as a negative in its congressional scorecards.
When Boehner tried to get his caucus behind a bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling on Oct. 15, Heritage Action again urged members to reject the deal. The conservative National Review reported that this was a key turning point, pushing enough Republicans to say they would vote against the bill so that it had to be abandoned altogether.
House Republicans stood strong, DeMint said Tuesday, but "the Senate threw them under the bus" by striking a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling before the nation defaulted on its debts.
The Senate Conservatives Fund in September ran $340,000 in attack ads criticizing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for his handling of the budget and debt-limit showdown. And last month, the fund endorsed McConnell's GOP primary challenger.
"I really do think the future is in our hands," DeMint told the crowd Tuesday. "We don't have to argue with people. We just have to let them know we care about them. ... We're going to keep working, even though the odds seem to be against us right now."
Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.
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