Washington Watch: Budget stalemate pondered

Congress officially began its August recess but won’t, at least in the near future, slow down talks over the continuing federal budget stalemate that looms in September, another debt-ceiling fight and a last-ditch GOP effort to defund the Affordable Care Act before more parts of it are implemented beginning Oct. 1.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is among a dozen or so senators who have signed onto a letter threatening to force a potential government shutdown unless Congress votes to defund “Obamacare.”

Vitter did not respond to multiple interview requests on the topic this past week. But the effort is pushed by the influential conservative Heritage Action group, Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform and various tea party-related organizations.

Opinions are mixed among Republicans. Some, like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., argue that Obamacare needs to be pulled off the shelves like the failed “New Coke” and that President Barack Obama is to blame for any government shutdown if he will not agree.

Coca-Cola “went back to their old formula,” Rubio said. “They made a mistake and didn’t double down.”

Others, like Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., quickly dismissed the shutdown threat as the “dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”

Some Republicans in the Louisiana congressional delegation, including Reps. Rodney Alexander, of Quitman, and Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, contend they will continue to fight to repeal and defund the health-care law but say “coupling” it with the risk of a government shutdown would only hurt the GOP brand, similar to what happened during the last shutdown in the 1990s. A shutdown would hurt taxpayers with issues like cuts to veterans benefits and more, they say.

Alexander said Congress is a “mess” right now with the GOP divided and some on the “ultra-conservative side” keeping the House from passing basic spending bills.

“There’s an element that would like to shut government down,” Alexander said. “That concerns me.”

Boustany said, “Shutting down the government is going to hurt a lot of people … and it will not stop Obamacare.”

“We have to fight effectively, and we have to be smart,” Boustany said, noting his push to permanently repeal the delayed employer-mandate aspect of the law.

But Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, contends Obama is acting like a “dictator” and executively delaying parts of an “unworkable” health-care law. Republicans will continue to fight to defund Obamacare in spending bills, he said.

“President Obama is trying to scare people into thinking there’s a government shutdown,” Scalise said.

Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said the fight is mostly in the U.S. Senate for now and that he is being “deliberative” on the matter. But Cassidy again warned it is a bad law that should be repealed before it starts hurting young Louisiana residents with families through higher insurance premiums on the health-care exchanges.

Also last week, the White House rolled out its list of new health-care benefits for Louisiana residents.

Nearly 800,000 state residents are currently uninsured and eligible for the upcoming health insurance marketplace, and 91 percent of them qualify for tax credits to help purchase insurance coverage as part of the law’s individual mandate.

About 53,000 more young Louisianians can now remain on their parents’ coverage through age 25. And nearly 2 million nonelderly state residents are no longer punished for pre-existing health conditions. Medicare recipients in the state have saved more than $100 million on prescription drug costs since the implementation of Obamacare, according to the White House.

Obama met with congressional Democrats to rally their support over the health-care law. And, of course, there aren’t too many Democrats backing the government shutdown threat.

“The people of Louisiana and the country are generally just fed up with gamesmanship and gimmicks and they want us to roll up our sleeves, compromise and find a way to help the private sector create jobs,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said. “I understand the theatrics that are going on, but theatrics don’t put food on the table.”

She added that the Affordable Care Act is the law: “It’s been upheld by the Supreme Court. We need to move on. … That’s what we need to be focused on — going forward, not backwards.”

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