No health insurance is hard for the poor. No phone? Unthinkable.

“An iPhone and insurance are not the same thing at all,” Ms. Hunter, 32, said. “If you need to be able to decide between an iPhone and health insurance, you need to look at: Why is that the choice?”

To Mr. Chaffetz’s supporters, his comments sounded like a tough-love defense of individual responsibility in the midst of a knockdown debate over the government’s role in providing health care to Americans. To his critics, they sounded like a callous and obtuse dismissal of the hard choices that struggling families face every day — and one that echoed earlier, racially noxious arguments over “welfare queens” and criticisms of programs that helped provide phone service to poor people.

The Hunters have thought plenty about trying to cut out the $100 they spend on cellphone service every month. Yes, they said, it’s a lot, especially when they don’t have health insurance and they stretch the last dollars from their $1,800 monthly income to buy diapers and gasoline.

But the cellphone tethers the couple together when Mr. Hunter leaves for his nearly $13-an-hour job at a call center and Ms. Hunter stays home with their three children — 9, 4 and 3 years old — here in the Utah Valley. They chat on his 15-minute breaks. It pains Mr. Hunter to be away from the children, so Ms. Hunter texts him photos of them making a snowman or playing on the backyard swing set. He sends her inspirational quotes from elders in the Mormon Church, to which they are both devoted.

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