Will The GOP Back Away From Using The Budget To Attack The PPACA?
Republicans don't seem willing to let go of the Obamacare issue just yet. But, how long will that actually last?
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy made clear this morning that the House of Representatives would continue its efforts to chip away at the Affordable Care Act if the Senate rejects the Continuing Resolution passed last night:
The third-ranking House Republican said Sunday that if the Senate rejects the short-term spending bill the House just passed that takes aim at Obamacare, the House will promptly move to pass another bill that would change the health-care law.
“We will pass a bill, if the Senate does what you think they will do, that will keep the government open, that will reflect the House, that I believe the Senate can accept, that will have fundamental changes in Obamacare that can protect the economy,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
The government will partially shut down if lawmakers cannot strike a deal by the end of Monday. The House early Sunday passed a stopgap spending bill that would delay Obamacare by a year and repeal the medical device tax. The Democratic Senate has vowed to reject it. That will probably happen on Monday.
McCarthy refused to rule out passing a short-term continuing resolution that would keep the government running for days as negotiations continue.
So, what could we expect to see if, as expected, the Senate rejects the new House CR? National Review’s Robert Costa covered that question last night, passing along reports that the House might consider a CR that includes a bar on the “exemption” that Members of Congress and their staffs received earlier this year:
First, the House passes a CR today that delays Obamacare’s implementation for one year and repeals the medical-device tax. This legislation will almost certainly die a quick death in the Senate.
Should that happen, the House will send another bill back. The leadership is mulling several options. At the top of the list is a revised CR that includes the Vitter amendment, authored by Senator David Vitter (R., La.), which would eliminate Obamacare subsidies for congressional staffers and members.
The leadership thinks that a final CR with Vitter’s language would put them on solid political ground, even if Senate Democrats resist. In that scenario, and the government shut down, Republicans would argue that Democrats shut down the government to protect their perks.
The leadership also believes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would feel pressure to take up such legislation, especially from red-state Democrats who are up for reelection next year.
National Journal’s Matt Berman discusses some of those same options in a report this morning, but points out that it’s still hard to see how the Senate folds:
Those “fundamental changes” have a few obvious possibilities. The House could pass a CR that includes just a medical device tax repeal, or an individual-mandate delay. Or, as National Review‘s Robert Costa reported on Saturday, it could include a version of the Vitter amendment, which wouldeliminate health care subsidies for members of Congress, their staff, and members of the executive branch.
Right now, it’s hard to see how a House CR that includes any of these provisions could hold off a government shutdown. The Senate and White House are virtually sure to refuse a CR that includes an individual mandate delay, and a medical device tax repeal—which would cost $29 billion over a decade according to the Congressional Budget Office—could be a tough climb there as well.
It’s not even clear that these “fundamental changes” would be able to get through the House, as powerful conservative groups like Heritage Action are already coming out and saying that they wouldn’t support something like a medical device tax repeal, as it would “do nothing to prevent the law’s entitlements from taking root and continues funding Obamacare in its entirety.”
The bigger point, I think, is that the GOP is basically slowly backing away from the hardline position represented by people like Ted Cruz. Long before we got to this point, they House voted some 40-50 times to repeal Obamacare in whole or in part. Not surprisingly, those efforts went nowhere in the Senate, most not even getting a vote and the ones that did come up being voted down by a united Democratic majority. In 2012, they campaigned on the idea of repealing the law, not an inadvisable strategy given the fact that polling both then and new shows that the public remains intensely negative about the law even as we begin to approach the time when it will start to go into effect. The voters, of course, decided to vote for the candidate who supports the PPACA, not the candidate who opposed it and advocated repealing it.
Now, let’s look at what happened over the past several months.
At the beginning, when people on the right were just whispering about at “Defund Obamacare” approach to the budget, House Leadership was pushing back against the idea and instead suggesting that the party use other means to try to gain traction on the health care issue. The issue also threatened to create a rift among Republicans on the Hill, with even veteran fiscal conservatives like Tom Coburn speaking out against it. Additionally, polling showed public opposition to the shutdown plan that Cruz and others were proposing, even among Republicans. Nonetheless, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Ted Cruz and the “grassroots” organizations behind the defund idea, pressure began to build on Speaker Boehner and the House Leadership to take on the Obamacare issue as part of the Continuing Resolution needed to find the government after September 30th. So, they passed a Continuing Resolution that included “defunding” Obamacare. Leaving aside the fact that this defunding move would actually have don e very little to stop the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, that measure was unsurprisingly rejected by the Senate. Now, in response to that rejection, the House has passed a bill that includes, among other things, a provision to delay implementation of the law for a year. Majority Leader Reid has already made clear that this bill will also not make it through the Senate. In response, McCarthy is offering the possibility of yet a third CR that basically would only nip at the heels of the law. Over the course of ten days, then, the House has consistently backed away from its most extreme position — from defund to delay and, now, to minor provisions — an action that suggests that the House leadership clearly doesn’t want to shut the government down, but that they know they wouldn’t be able to get a CR through the House with a majority of Republican votes without including something about Obamacare. Given that, why would the Senate accept the third CR any more than they’d accept the first and second? Based on how the House has acted, it seems logical to conclude that, eventually, we’ll see a “clean” CR from the House, even if it means relying on Democratic votes to help pass it. The only real question is how long it will take to get to that point.
Given how the House leadership has acted, it strikes me that they’ve been engaging in a game that is as much meant to placate the base of the GOP as anything else. At some point, I suppose, they are hoping that the Tea Party Caucus, or whatever its called at this point, will see the light, recognize that further efforts to attack Obamacare via Continuing Resolution or even the debt ceiling is going to be fruitless, and move on to the next battle. How long it will take to get there is anyone’s guess.