With a Friday deadline looming, a fight over health care funding and abortion could shut down the government. House Republicans are demanding that Obamacare measures in the spending bill — which would avert the shutdown — must include Hyde Amendment language to prevent federal money from funding abortion procedures.
The drama begins with the GOP tax bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday on a purely partisan vote of 51 to 48. One of the key Senate votes was Susan Collins, the Republican from Maine. She made a deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to vote for the tax plan only if a few other bills passed, including extra funds to stabilize the health care markets.
But now those other bills are at risk because anti-abortion activists want to carve out an exception explicitly in the spending bill that would prevent the federal funds from paying for abortion. The Hyde Amendment already does that, but this would strengthen the language and could result in private insurance plans, partially paid for with government subsidies, not covering the procedure.
Collins' main hesitation to vote for the tax bill seemed to be its inclusion of the individual mandate repeal — that's essentially the failed skinny repeal of Obamacare from earlier this year that kills the requirement for people buy insurance. Repealing the individual mandate would result in premiums rising, and Collins expressed concern that the premium increases would eat away at any potential tax cut that middle-class Americans saw. So she had McConnell promise her that they would pass other bills to stabilize the insurance markets.
Now it's time to pass the bills he promised — one measure would give insurance companies stabilization funds to provide discounted deductibles and copays to poor consumers, and another would award states billions of dollars to help cover patients in high-risk pools. But many GOP members in the House won't vote for these measures unless there's this abortion carveout.
"It needs to have Hyde," GOP co-chairman of the Pro-Life Caucus Rep. Chris Smith told The Hill.
Matters become even trickier when these measures are added to the stopgap government funding bill that would keep the government open past Friday, the shutdown deadline. Now both Democrats and Republicans are digging in on both sides of the abortion fight.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told The Hill that adding Hyde Amendment language to the bill would "kill it altogether." At least eight Democratic or Independent votes are needed to pass the bill in the Senate. Senate Republicans might support the bill even without the abortion language, but the House is another story.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota told The Hill that it's likely to come down to a fight in the House.
If you look at where the commitments have been made in terms of Sen. Collins, the leader is going to be putting those on the floor, and I think they'll probably pass the Senate, and I think it's going to be up to the House about how they want to deal with it.
Several GOP representatives suggested that the House Speaker Paul Ryan would not yield on the matter. Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma told The Hill it would be unlikely to pass without the wording being added.
I think [Ryan] listens to his members, and I think he got a lot of pushback on that today. There's no stronger pro-life person than Paul Ryan. That's never coming through here without Hyde language in it.
Ryan himself has not spoken out on the matter, but he and McConnell will need to come to some sort of arrangement — one that garners eight votes from across the Senate aisle — if they want to avoid a shutdown.