Wednesday night, House Leadership withdrew legislation to fund the government through December in response to growing conservative criticism that the measure didn’t strip funding for ObamaCare. Congress must pass legislation to authorize continued government spending before September 30, or the government will shut down. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor had unveiled a plan that would split the ObamaCare funding from the underlying government spending, but conservatives balked at the plan. Any action on spending now has been pushed to next week.
Conservatives, led by Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, have argued that any measure to extend government spending authority should also include language to defund ObamaCare. On October 1, the health care exchanges authorized by ObamaCare, where individuals can presumably shop for health insurance, are set to open. On January 1, all Americans are mandated to have health insurance. On that date, as well, large subsidies and tax credits to supplement those insurance premiums will begin. Unless the law is uprooted now, it will likely remain.
Cantor’s plan envisioned the House passing a “clean” resolution to continue government spending, one which absorbed the sequester cuts. It also would include a separate resolution that defunded all aspects of ObamaCare. Under Cantor’s plan, the Senate would receive the “clean” resolution until it had voted on funding ObamaCare. The Senate would have to definitively vote on funding ObamaCare before it could vote to keep the government open.
Conservatives rebelled, arguing that the split resolutions offered nothing more than a symbolic vote against ObamaCare and removed all leverage against the unpopular law. Democrats in control of the Senate could vote down the ObamaCare defunding and then quickly authorize legislation to keep the government functioning.
The issue is, however, far more complicated. Funding ObamaCare requires about $13 billion in annual appropriations that is subject to Congressional authorization. More than $70 billion a year, however, is funded by mandatory spending that isn’t subject to Congressional authorization. In other words, Congress could eliminate all spending for ObamaCare, but 70% of the program would march on.
That said, everything in life is done on the margins. Eliminating just a fraction of the overall spending on ObamaCare could upend the whole program. That is the hope of conservatives. And that hope cause GOP Leadership to blink.