House Passes Obamacare Delay, Government Shutdown Looking Inevitable
The 2013 fiscal year ends midnight Monday, and, unless there's an 11th-hour turnaround, it'll bring with it a federal shutdown that'll close down parks, museums, public buildings, and more, all while Republicans and Democrats continue to play a game of legislative who-blinks-first. Early Sunday, the House passed a one-year Obamacare delay and a medical device tax repeal, throwing the legislation back at the Senate — who are flatly refusing to pass any measure de-funding the health law. So let's not plan any visits to the Smithsonian next week.
Soon after 12 am Sunday, the House voted 231-192 on a provision which delays Obamacare by a year, and 248-174 to repeal a tax on medical devices that help fund the health law. They also included an uncomfortably-named "conscience clause" to the delay amendment, which gives insurance plans and employers the power to refuse to cover birth control on moral grounds.
It's not clear what'll happen next. Democratic sources have told CNN that it's unlikely the Senate will meet before Monday's fiscal deadline, and there's no sign of negotiations being scheduled. Even if they did meet, the chances of the bill being accepted as offered are next to nothing.
"To be absolutely clear, the Senate will reject both the one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of the medical device tax," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement. "After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one."
And the House seems to be preparing for that possibility — a separate bill to ensure that military personnel would continue to be paid in the event of a shutdown passed 423-0 early Sunday.
Republicans have been using the budget deadline — and, therefore, the threat of shutting down the federal government — as a way to stall (or, if possible, get rid of completely) the Affordable Care Act, which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called a “monstrosity,” and the “single worst piece of legislation passed in the last fifty years.” One of the health care law's components takes effect as soon as this Tuesday October 1, allowing people to compare and sign up for health insurance policies via a new website, healthcare.gov. (Scary stuff.)
As could be expected, name-calling between the parties ensued shortly after the vote, as Democrats and Republicans bounced the blame for the imminent shutdown back and forth.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told POLITICO that it was on the Senate Democrats if the shutdown did occur.
“It’s up to the Senate Democrats,” Cantor said. “Are they on the side of the working people of this country? Are they going to be on the side of big business and special interests who have all gotten the delay of Obamcare?”
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), on the other hand, put it on the voters to decide whether Saturday's vote was a mistake.
“It’s going to be up to the American public to decide if this was a battle worth going to the mat for,” Farenthold said.
As it happens, a recent poll from the Pew Research Center found that only 23 percent of Americans say Congress should try to “make the [health] law fail" — another 69 percent want Congress to “make the law work as well as possible.”
"This once-deliberative body has been taken over by knaves and know-nothings, content with putting partisan politics ahead of the American people,'' said Democratic Rep. John Dingell. "I believe that this current Congress would be incapable of passing the Ten Commandments or even the Lord's Prayer, and today's actions have only further galvanized that belief."
"It's their way or the highway, and the highway leads over the cliff," echoed Rep. Sandy Levin (D., Mich.).
If, by some surprising twist, the Senate votes and passes the House's spending bill, President Obama has already threatened a veto. If no deal is reached, the government shutdown will start at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. Ironically, no matter what happens with the budget, Obama has maintained that the health care exchange will open as scheduled.