Washington Watch: Obamacare fight still raging

by jordan blum

jblum@theadvocate.com

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

A potential government shutdown is just two weeks away as Con- gress continues to feud over a necessary budget stopgap at the end of the month and whether to involve the fight over the Affordable Care Act health-care law.

Dozens of House Republicans, and some in the Senate, are insisting that any budget stopgap must defund and delay “Obamacare” for at least a year before state-by-state health care exchanges are initiated Oct. 1.

Because Democrats and the GOP remain at a stalemate on overall federal spending levels, a short-term budget fix, called a continuing resolution, is needed to avoid a partial government shutdown at the end of the month.

Republican opinions vary, though, on whether to force health-care funding into the fight.

U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, want the health-care law repealed, but they have argued that a potential government shutdown is neither the time nor the place to do it. They contend that the American public and the GOP brand would suffer.

While in the minority of the Republicans in Congress, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; John Fleming, R-Minden; and Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, have all signed letters asking the GOP House leadership not to support any spending bill unless the Affordable Care Act health-care law is defunded.

While the letters do not specifically call for a government shutdown, they do ask the GOP leadership to oppose any continuing spending resolutions that fund the health-care law. The chances are slim-to-none that Democrats and President Barack Obama will agree to support any bill that does not fund health care, so the leadership of both parties recognizes that such an approach likely would lead to the shutdown of countless government services for the first time since 1996.

A government shutdown would not cut off most of the funding for the Affordable Care Act implementation.

Despite a line in the sand on Obamacare likely leading to a government shutdown, Cassidy, Scalise and others are vehement that they oppose a shutdown, or even the threat of one, and that the Democrats would be to blame.

Cassidy also is the only initial Louisiana cosponsor of a new plan proposed Thursday by U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., that ties defunding the health-care law for a year into the funding for the federal government.

Republican House leadership this past week pushed a potential compromise intended to make the Senate vote on whether to fund “Obamacare.” After that Senate vote failed and put people like U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., on the record, then the Senate would essentially be able to vote on a clean continuing resolution. But some tea party and conservative groups have called that approach a gimmick that accomplishes nothing.

Americans for Limited Government President Nathan Mehrens put out statements calling out individual Republicans if they support that approach.

“House Republican leadership is proposing one of the most cynical political shell games seen in Washington, D.C. in years,” Mehrens stated. “Their proposal is to allow a symbolic vote on defunding Obamacare in conjunction with the continuing resolution that would fund the federal government, but not have that vote be binding on any Senate action to fund the government. This is a gimmick, and any member that votes for it will own it.”

Such threats enhance the tension and make a shutdown much more likely if GOP members agree.

Then you have Vitter offering an either-or approach. Vitter is currently causing a kerfuffle in the Senate by aggressively pushing his proposal to require members of Congress, their staffs and the president to acquire their health insurance through the health-care exchanges without any federal employee benefits.

To not do so, he said, would be hypocritical.

Either defund Obamacare or make everyone lose their employer subsidies and go independently through the exchanges.

“We’re going to demand one or the other,” Vitter said.

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.