Bloomberg News

Republicans Mull Steps to Slow Health-Care Risking Shutdown (1)

September 24, 2013

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz

With U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, vowing to hold a filibuster, the Senate debate could drag out until late in the week. Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House Republicans are considering alternatives to deny funding for the health-care law that could extend the spending debate past a Sept. 30 deadline, raising the risk of a federal government shutdown.

The Senate is set to hold a test vote tomorrow on the legislation passed by the House to cover federal spending through Dec. 15, and choke off funds for President Barack Obama’s health law. The next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate will pass a spending measure without defunding the health law. In response, House Republicans are mulling language that would hinder the law’s implementation, to be added when the Senate sends back the measure, according to congressional aides.

The disagreement probably will continue through the weekend, adding pressure on Congress to agree on a spending bill, or begin closing some government operations.

Reid said today Republicans are harboring resentment over not winning the presidency or the Senate majority in 2012, fueling their opposition to the health-care law.

“It’s time to set that anger aside,” Reid said. Republicans should “stop fighting old battles” and work with Democrats to prevent a government shutdown.

Senate Democrats are considering a proposal that would continue government funding through mid-November, a month shorter than the House version.

‘Wasting Millions’

Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, said he supports a Nov. 15 measure and it would leave time to consider catch-all spending known as an omnibus.

“We are repeating last year’s budget over and over again,” said Durbin, who is chairman of the Senate panel that funds the Pentagon. “That is a waste of federal money. At the Department of Defense, we are wasting millions if not billions by just repeating last year’s budget.”

The spending debate continues the partisan battle over the health-care law, which passed without Republican support in 2010. Republicans have tried without success to repeal or chip away at it since.

The House and Senate are starting to debate an increase in the federal borrowing limit, which could be reached sometime after the middle of next month, according to the Treasury Department.

House Republican leaders are discussing options for the spending measure once the Senate removes the defunding language.

Republican Options

One option in the House would eliminate the medical-device tax, which is expected to raise about $30 billion over the next decade, according to two Republican aides, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t final.

The repeal has 261 House co-sponsors. Adding the language to the spending bill would be a test for several Democrats. Senators Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, all of whom are seeking re-election in 2014, have previously backed a similar measure as a non-binding amendment to the budget resolution.

Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina yesterday said the stopgap legislation should include a repeal of the medical-device tax.

Republicans are also considering a delay in implementing the federal data hub, which connects state health exchanges with federal agencies including the Internal Revenue Service, to verify uninsured individuals shopping for health insurance.

Eliminating Subsidies

Among options being considered is eliminating subsidies that members of Congress would receive to buy insurance on the exchanges under Obamacare, the Republican aides said.

A delay of the independent payment advisory board is also under consideration, they said. The advisory board created under the Affordable Care Act must recommend policies to Congress to help Medicare provide better care at lower costs, according to the White House.

Another leadership aide who asked not to be identified said Republican leaders are not ruling out passing a clean spending measure. The House plans are in flux and will depend on what Republican members would back.

Reid said yesterday that he was open to changes to improve the health-care law, although he’s said the spending measure is the wrong forum for that debate.

“A vast majority of Americans, including those who disapprove of the health-care law, want Congress to work to improve it, not to tear it down,” Reid said.

‘Damages Jobs’

Republican Senator Ted Cruz yesterday said “nothing damages jobs more than Obamacare,” and reiterated his pledge to do everything he can to keep the defunding language intact.

Cruz sought consent to have the Senate pass the House measure unchanged or to have all amendments --- including to strip the health care language -- subjected to a 60-vote threshold. Reid objected to both efforts.

“There’s a tendency in this town towards brinkmanship,” Cruz said, adding that Reid missed an opportunity to take a shutdown “off the table.”

Other Senate Republicans have criticized linking the health care law to the spending fight. McCain, for instance, has called such efforts a political “suicide note.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would vote to end debate on the House bill because it would force Democrats to defend the health-care law and remove funding. He also will oppose the tactics backed by Cruz to delay action on the stopgap spending measure.

‘Rare Opportunity’

“This is a rare opportunity to defund the law with a simple majority,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said.“ We should have that vote.”

“I just don’t think filibustering a bill that defunds Obamacare is the best route to defund Obamacare,” he said.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, also backs the House bill and won’t block a measure that cuts off funding for the health law, according to Megan Mitchell, a Cornyn spokeswoman.

Federal offices have begun planning for the possibility of a government shutdown.

Part of House Republican leaders’ strategy is to time a vote on increasing the debt-limit that could satisfy many of the Republican members’ demands if the Senate prevails in keeping Obamacare funded.

The House this week may start considering a measure to suspend the U.S. borrowing limit for one year instead of raising it by a specific amount, and attach provisions including a delay in the health law for one year, according to a proposal distributed by party leaders to members and obtained by Bloomberg News.

Obama and congressional Democrats have said they won’t negotiate attaching spending cuts or changes to the health care law as part of any debt ceiling increase.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kathleen Hunter in Washington at khunter9@bloomberg.net; Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net


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