Dem senator: Shutdown fight 'as dangerous' as break-up of the Union

A veteran Democratic senator on Friday stepped up his party's criticism of Tea Party-backed efforts to defund ObamaCare, likening the risk of a government shutdown to the threat faced by the country during the Civil War.

"We are at one of the most dangerous points in our history right now -- every bit as dangerous as the break-up of the Union before the Civil War," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who helped write the Affordable Care Act as chairman of the Senate committee overseeing the health care industry.

Harkin's comments are just the latest salvo in a heated rhetorical battle between backers of a push by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, to block consideration of a House-passed budget bill and veteran lawmakers who decry their efforts as political theater that brings the country closer to a possible shutdown next week. Harkin and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have repeatedly referred to Tea Party lawmakers as "anarchists."

"We're not going to bow to Tea Party anarchists who deny the mere fact that ObamaCare is the law," Reid declared in floor remarks earlier this week.

Cruz and Lee have also drawn friendly fire from other members of the GOP, in part because they insist that any Republican senator who joins the chamber's 54 Democrats (including two independents who caucus with the party) in voting to advance the budget bill is being disingenuous in their opposition to the president's health care law. That's because, they argue, everyone knows that Reid will be able to strip the defunding language from the bill by a simple majority as his next step.

In a testy floor exchange Thursday, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., accused the pair of delaying Senate action because they wanted to put on a "show."

"The reason we're waiting is that y'all have sent out releases and emails and you want everybody to be able to watch," Corker said.

Cruz later accused many of his colleagues of being "scared" of a shutdown.

"A lot of Republicans, they have been here a long time," he said in an appearance on Fox News' "Hannity" on Thursday. "And they're scared that if we stand together on this and if a government shutdown results that Republicans will be blamed and it is too the politically risky."