U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island squared off Thursday night with Republican Ted Cruz on CNN's "Crossfire" on the partial government shutdown, the debt ceiling and the new national health care law.
Cruz, of Texas, gained national attention for his marathon speech on the Senate floor a couple of weeks ago.
Whitehouse represented the Democrats on the show, blaming Republicans for the shutdown and lack of progress ending it.
"Everyone I know in Rhode Island knows the difference between negotiating and negotiating with hostages," Whitehouse said.
Whitehouse tried to hammer that message home, claiming Republicans shut down the government to get what they want, an overhaul of "Obamacare."
He used the word "hostage" more than a dozen times in the half-hour broadcast.
Cruz questioned Whitehouse on why he and other Democrats voted to fund troops but won't vote to fund other programs during the shutdown.
"Do you think the Senate should vote on the 14 bills the House has already passed to fund vital priorities like the VA, like our parks?" Cruz asked.
Whitehouse responded: "No. I think that's a sham. That's a complete sham because you can waste time voting on them and every one you vote is a vote to leave every other agency left out of the particular bill shut down."
Cruz's big issue is the health care law. He wants it out.
"Democrats in this town do not want to discuss Obamacare. Why? Because it isn't working," he said.
Whitehouse called that kind of talk "a product of right-wing histrionics," and he talked about going to the new health insurance exchange in Rhode Island and hearing stories from workers there.
"People are hugging their employees when they find out what the options are," he said.
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