Updated 10/10/2013 at 9:08pm
Washington (CNN) - Sen. Ted Cruz really does want healthcare reform, just not Obamacare, the Texas Republican said Thursday night.
The conservative firebrand and self-made arch-foe of the Affordable Care Act was on CNN’s “Crossfire” to defend the tactics he proposed that helped drive the United States to a government shutdown.
And those tactics seem to be working by Cruz’s standards.
“An awful lot of Washington would like to change the subject,” on fighting Obamacare, Cruz said. “Who hasn't stopped focusing on Obamacare is the American people.”
Cruz argued that he has gotten the grassroots outrage against the health care law he has always sought.
“Millions of Americans rose up and said this thing isn't working,” the freshman senator said. “That's what we need to stay focused on.”
It was Cruz who helped propose a government funding bill that attached language defunding President Barack Obama’s signature legislation.
The defunding language was a rider that Democrats have long said was unacceptable and ultimately pushed the government into shutdown when a deal over spending could not be reached.
Back and forth between Democrats and Republicans over how to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling continue, with House Republicans passing multiple piecemeal funding bills that include Veteran’s Affairs and national parks.
Senate Democrats have refused to take up those bills, arguing that the entire government should be funded and calling anything else hostage negotiations made under duress.
Cruz’s “Crossfire” opponent Thursday, Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, continued that charge repeatedly.
Funding only parts of the government, Whitehouse argued, is akin to a hostage taker who will “let the occasional hostage out while holding all the other hostages.”
Cruz, a nationally ranked debate champion, stuck to his talking points.
“Why is it a hostage negotiation on a straight-up funding on the VA?” Cruz asked. “Why can't we all come together and say our vets should all be above politics?”
Republicans have held up the funding of everything else, Whitehouse countered.
Cruz has drawn considerable fire for his anti-Obamacare tactics even within his own party, with fellow Republicans like Rep. Peter King of New York calling Cruz “a fraud” for promising that he could defund Obamacare when all along he could not.
When asked if he owed the GOP an apology for its dropping approval ratings, Cruz instead turned the question into an indictment of Democrats who “do not want to discuss Obamacare.”
On the other hand, “House Republicans are listening to the millions of Americans” Cruz says are suffering under Obamacare, losing their jobs, work hours and insurance.
Whitehouse did not say that Obamacare was untouchable; arguing only that any reform should come through the normal legislative process instead of by tying it to larger issues of government funding and the debt ceiling.
That said, Whitehouse still largely defended the law, citing constituents and the costs of Medicaid and Medicare that he says are going down.
“You've got to believe that Obamacare has something to do with those huge savings,” Whitehouse said.
Whitehouse argued that Republicans decided early on that Obamacare was going to be a failure.
It was “a political choice to pull all support from anything this president wanted to do,” Whitehouse said.
When accused of countering any positive health care reform, Cruz argued that “I am a big supporter of healthcare reform,” a cause he says he has long championed.