House to take up budget stopgap that defunds Obamacare
- By Adam Mazmanian
- Sep 18, 2013
House Speaker John Boehner plans to bring a measure to vote that funds the government through December, with no funding for the health care law scheduled to take effect Oct. 1. (File photo)
House Speaker John Boehner announced plans for a vote on a new stopgap spending plan that maintains federal funding at current levels and defunds the 2010 health care law, setting up a collision with the Democratic-controlled Senate and increasing the odds of a government shutdown Oct. 1.
The continuing resolution would fund discretionary spending at an annual rate of $986 billion through Dec. 15.
In bringing the measure to the floor for a vote, Boehner (R-Ohio) is following the lead of the most conservative wing of the Republican caucus, which has refused to accept any budget plan that does not include preventing the health care law from taking effect Oct. 1, when open enrollment is set to begin. The new continuing resolution tracks with a measure proposed by Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) who put forth a one-year budget extension that funded the government at $967 billion, tilted discretionary spending toward defense, and eliminated funding for the health care law. Graves and other conservatives voiced support for the Boehner continuing resolution.
"The American people should view this as a victory," Graves said.
A vote on the measure is expected Sept. 19. If it passes, it effectively moves the debate over defunding the health care law to the Senate, where it stands effectively zero chance of passing. It does, however, give some vocal opponents of the law in that body, notably Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), another chance to make their case.
"The fight over here has been won. The House has voted over 40 times to change Obamacare, to repeal it. It's time for the Senate to have this fight," Boehner said to reporters after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans on Sept. 18.
The fight to watch will be when the Senate kicks the continuing resolution back to the House with the health care defunding provisions stripped out. Boehner and House leaders will be faced with the decision of bringing a revised continuing resolution to the floor and relying on Democratic votes to pass it, or sticking to their guns and run the possible political risks of being blamed for a government shutdown.
"The goal here is not to shut the government down, the goal is to keep the government operating. But we need to repeal Obamacare," Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), told reporters.
With a Democratic Senate and Obama in the White House, those objectives appear to be mutually exclusive.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced another possible path to achieving the GOP goal of blocking implementation of the health care law as part of a plan to raise the debt ceiling. That plan would delay the the law for a year and includes other measures, such as approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The Treasury is expected to run out of money sometime in mid-October or November, and needs congressional authorization to borrow more.
The White House, meanwhile, is prepping for a government shutdown. The Office of Management and Budget released a memo instructing agencies to update their contingency plans for a shutdown, including a review of which agency functions, personnel, and payments are allowed to continue in the absence of an appropriation.
In a speech Sept. 18 at the Business Roundtable in Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama criticized the focus on defunding the health care law, and said he wasn't going to enter into negotiations on an extension of the debt ceiling. At the same time, Obama allowed for the possibility of combining a continuing resolution with a debt ceiling extension, but said that even in that event, the extension would simply be tacked on, and not the product of a back-and-forth on the budget.
"And if there is a budget package that includes the debt ceiling vote, it's not the debt ceiling that is driving the negotiations; it's just stuck into the budget negotiations, because if you're going to take a bunch of tough votes anyway, you might as well go ahead and stick that in there," Obama said.
The new continuing resolution includes a provision allowing the Commerce department to shift funds as necessary to support the deployment of a the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is facing a gap in its ability to collect polar weather data via satellite, which could be exacerbated by budget cuts.
Adam Mazmanian is FCW's senior staff writer, and covers Congress, health IT and governmentwide IT policy. Connect with him on Twitter: @thisismaz.