House GOP may attach Obamacare delay to CR
By: Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan
September 24, 2013 06:18 PM EDT
The House Republican leadership is seriously considering attaching a one-year delay of Obamacare’s individual mandate to the Senate bill to avert a government shutdown, according to senior GOP aides.
If House Republicans decide to go this route, it would all but provoke a government shutdown, since Senate Democrats might not even schedule a vote on a bill that includes that provision, Senate leadership staffers say. Even if the Senate schedules a vote, there might not be time to move the legislation through the slow-moving chamber.
The House Republican leadership is planning its next move as it becomes abundantly clear that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) gambit to defund Obamacare will fall short. The federal government is set to shut down Tuesday unless a new funding bill is enacted, and the Senate might not even send a bill to the House until Sunday — leaving a hot potato on Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) lap hours before a government shutdown. The Senate bill will fund the government through Nov. 15.
Boehner (R-Ohio) and his leadership team have been preparing options to present to House Republicans when they return on Wednesday from a brief recess. The process, leadership aides say, will be driven by members of the House Republican Conference. Their first closed party meeting is Thursday.
Several different tactics are under discussion within the top levels of House GOP leadership, and the path Republicans choose depends on several factors — chiefly the mood of rank-and-file Republicans when they return to Washington, and when the House gets the continuing resolution or CR back from the Senate.
For example, if there isn’t time to send a funding bill back to the Senate without shutting down the government, House Republicans might simply pass the Senate’s version of the legislation, and reserve their attacks on Obamacare for future pieces of legislation like a debt-ceiling increase. House Republicans begin their quest to lift the debt limit this week, with a similar delay of the health care law attached. This comes after the House passed a CR completely defunding Obamacare.
“We’ll deal with whatever the Senate passes when they pass it,” said Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman. “There’s no point in speculating before that.”
House Republicans see tremendous upside in attempting to delay the individual mandate. First, they think it is easy to communicate the policy to voters. President Barack Obama has already delayed the employer mandate — the provision in the health-care bill that requires businesses with more than 50 employees to provide health care for their workers. House Republicans ask: Why not institute that same delay for individuals?
Delaying the individual mandate also poses a difficult political problem for some House Democrats, especially those from red states. When similar legislation came up in the House in July, 22 Democrats voted with 229 Republicans to pass the bill. One Republican voted against that bill: Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.).
Of course, the political fallout of a shutdown is scary business for House Republicans. Boehner has privately warned his fellow leaders that a government shutdown is perilous for Republicans. Most Americans who disapprove of the health care law think its unwise to shutdown the government to stop Obamacare’s implementation.
There are other legislative add-ons under consideration by House GOP leaders, as well. There has been discussion by House Republicans of attaching the so-called “conscience clause” to the CR — language that would allow employers to ignore a federal requirement that they cover birth control as part of their health insurance packages.
House Republicans are also considering including language that would prevent the federal government from making the employer contribution for the health care of members’ of Congress and their staff. This would add thousands of dollars to the insurance tab of Capitol Hill staffers and lawmakers. A third option is repealing the medical device tax, a revenue stream businesses loathe, but is off the radar of everyday Americans.
Much is in flux this week, as a split Washington tries to avert the first government shutdown since 1996.
In a bid to help House Republicans respond to the Democratic Senate, some GOP senators have been discussing accelerating the consideration of the CR so the House has more time to consider its legislative options to keep the government open. This would fly in the face of some conservative senators, who want to drag out the process.
Much of House Republican leadership privately says they would prefer to pass a “clean” CR and avoid a shutdown. Boehner will need Democrats to push such a bill over the finish line. House Democrats have their own strategy session with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
But if rank-and-file House Republicans come back from their districts, ready to fight on the government funding resolution, Boehner and his top lieutenant have prepared several options to present to them.
The voting will start Wednesday in the Senate, the same day the House returns to D.C. to rejoin the funding fray. The House’s week is somewhat choreographed at this point. They will vote Wednesday evening and Thursday on bills unrelated to the government shutdown.
On Friday or Saturday, the House will move ahead with a bill to hike the debt ceiling, with a smattering of other favored conservative policies that will ride alongside. A one-year delay of the entirety of Obamacare will be attached to a one-year hike of the debt ceiling, as will language to jumpstart construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and instructions for Congress to rewrite the Tax Code. This isn’t a particularly easy vote for House Repbulicans, given how loathe many of them are to raise the debt ceiling, no matter what is attached.
The Treasury Department estimates that the debt ceiling will need to be hiked by mid-October, giving Republicans and Democrats time to continue their fight over that measure. Senate Democrats and Obama, however, have said repeatedly they will not negotiate over the borrowing limit, and Obama repeated that position in a personal call to Boehner last week.
Delaying the individual mandate appears to have some support among Senate Republicans, as well.
“I don’t know how the Democrats defend the fact that businesses don’t have to comply but individuals do so. I think the House strategy gets better as the week goes on,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said Tuesday.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are pushing for a vote on the repeal of the medical device tax.
“We should have amendments, we should have some votes germane to Obamacare. I think [Reid] should allow us to have some votes,” Graham said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has taken a back-seat role during much of the government funding fight, wants to give Boehner room to maneuver.
“If the House doesn’t get what we send over there until Monday, they’re in a pretty tough spot,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “And my own view is, the House having passed a bill that I really like … I’d hate to put them in a tough spot.”