How one man's anti-Obamacare strategy led U.S. to the brink of default

(CBS News) The hourglass was down to the last few grains of sand when Congress reached a deal Wednesday to flip it over and start yet another countdown to default. The government's authority to borrow money to pay its bills expires Thursday night at midnight, but the bipartisan deal would extend that temporarily and re-open the government temporarily.

The government shutdown was triggered nearly three weeks ago when House Republicans would fund the government only if they could also roll back the president's healthcare law. We learned where that strategy came from.

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Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has become the public face of the government shutdown.

But you've probably never even heard of the 31-year-old conservative activist The Wall Street Journal calls "the strategist behind the shutdown."

Michael Needham is the CEO of the conservative group Heritage Action.
CBS News

"The American people are overwhelmingly saying we need to stop Obamacare," said Michael Needham, the CEO of Heritage Action. It is the political arm of the nation's largest conservative think tank.

Months ago, he and fellow activists devised a plan to try defund or delay Obamacare by blocking federal spending, even if it led to a government shutdown.

Heritage Action used negative advertising to attack Republicans who refused to sign on to the strategy. And during the August congressional recess, Needham and Heritage Action fired up grassroots conservatives with a nine-city 'Defund Obamacare' tour.

"For one of the first times, people all across the country, by going to town halls, changed the course of the direction that Washington wanted to go," he said.

In the August congressional recess, Michael Needham and Heritage Action fired up grassroots conservatives with the multi-city 'Defund Obamacare' tour.
CBS News

Even now that the strategy appears to have failed, Needham said he's confident that in the long run he will prevail.

"We win by stopping Obamacare," he said.

And if he can't stop it? "The fight to stop Obamacare will go on," Needham said.

Despite his optimism Needham concedes that the earliest Obamacare could be repealed is the year 2017 after President Obama leaves office. He also admits that ending Obamacare will require putting a Republican in the White House and putting both houses of Congress in Republican hands.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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