WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said Tuesday that Kentuckians who elected him to fight against President Barack Obama's health care law must overlook the "temporary inconveniences" of a federal government shutdown.
Paul, in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader less than 12 hours after the federal government shuttered its nonessential services, warned that the battle he and Republicans are waging against Obama's health care law is bigger than a shutdown.
"I think I was elected to stand up and say, 'You know what, the emperor has no clothes,'" Paul said. "And we have to point that out. So really when people get caught up in the shutdown, I try to tell them, 'Well look, this isn't just about a shutdown. This isn't just about temporary inconveniences of the government shutdown. This is about whether or not a society or a civilization can borrow a trillion dollars every year without ramifications.'"
Paul has gained more widespread national recognition this year because of his 13-hour filibuster on drones and his stand against U.S. strikes in Syria.
Now, with the federal government closed for business because of fighting over the president's health care law, Paul said he has been pushing for compromise, but he said it is Democrats who are resisting.
"While I'm not really that concerned with the politics of it, I think Democrats need to start to be concerned," Paul said. "The politics on this can shift."
One way forward, Paul said, might include a spending bill that eliminates a tax on medical devices. A number of Democrats have been critical of that tax, but previous attempts to include the tax repeal in legislation have been combined with delays in health care implementation that Democrats have ruled out.
Obama and Senate Democrats have said for months that they would not negotiate on spending bills if the bills are used as a way to defund or delay the health care law, much of which went into effect Tuesday. In Kentucky, the state's health insurance exchange opened Tuesday morning.
Despite a widely held opinion that Tea Party voters will punish Republican politicians who are viewed as compromising on health care, Paul said he is not worried about being seen as soft or being involved in a compromise that could reopen the government.
"I'm not really too concerned about whether people see that compromise is a good or a bad thing," Paul said. "I think people want us to fight, and we are putting up a fight on Obamacare."
Paul said he and his staff will have to join one of the exchanges, either in Kentucky or Washington, D.C., and they are not happy about the prospect.
"As we look at it and our employees look at it, we're not happy with Obamacare," Paul said. "We think it's going to cost more; for some people it may cost them their job or cost them hours at their job."
With more than 600,000 uninsured Kentuckians eligible for some form of health insurance under the new law, Paul said, "The question's never whether it is a good idea for people to have health insurance — the question is how you're going to pay for it."
Paul said it would be good politics to offer the same number of Kentuckians a "free car" or a "4,000-square-foot house," but free health care is not really free.
"There is a cost to things," Paul said. "And this is the problem I think for liberals in general in that they have really big hearts but really small brains. You have to think through the consequences."
Of particular issue, Paul said, is that the Obama administration granted waivers to a number of companies when it came to the law's employer health insurance mandate. Paul said he thinks that action will be challenged in court, where Obama will be "rebuked."
"Do you really want a government where if you give a big enough contribution to someone, you get a waiver for a law?" Paul said. "I mean, who's getting waivers? The unions. They give all their money to the Democrats and they're getting waivers.
"How could that possibly be constitutional?" Paul asked. "If we said white people were getting this and not black, people would say, rightfully so, that's not equal protection of the law."
Using Kentucky as an example, Paul said that 61 percent of the state voted for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, and some polls show that about 70 percent of Kentuckians are opposed to the president's health care law.
Democrats have to realize, Paul said, that Republicans control one-third of the government, making compromise essential to everything, even keeping the government open.
"I think they're actually putting themselves in an untenable position and that's to be against negotiation and against compromise," he said of Democrats.
And is the senator, sent to Washington by the unyielding Tea Party, worried about being seen compromising with Democrats to reopen the government?
"I guess I don't see it that way," Paul said. "I'm a physician. I diagnose problems, and I try to fix them. And the problem up here is the government's shut down. And so we try to fix it."
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793 Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.