House Republicans pass an olive branch bill on Obamacare

Despite a compromise that leaves most of Obamacare funding in tact, the Senate has once again vowed to kill all House provisions to the CR. Photo: AP Photos

WASHINGTON, September 29, 2013 – The gridlock on Capitol Hill continued Sunday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vowed to vote down the stopgap spending bill that House Republicans passed earlier in the day. With less than 48 hours to go before the government shuts its doors, that move all but ensured that an agreement between the chambers would not be reached.

Although the complete defunding of Obamacare had been the GOP’s stated goal in this standoff, Republicans in the House hedged Sunday morning with the passage of a bill that left much of the healthcare law’s structure in tact.


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Instead, the measure delays Obamacare’s implementation for an additional year to allow kinks to be worked out of the system. The employer mandate, among other provisions, has already been pushed to 2015; the House bill simply moves the individual mandate back to the same rollout date.

In addition, the new House bill cuts out a tax on medical devices.

This 2.3% excise tax was to be levied annually on companies that manufacture medical devices—regardless of whether they turned a profit that year. Opponents of the tax argue that it will smother innovation in an important industry, since most breakthroughs in medical device technology come from smaller manufacturers.

Critics also worry that such companies will attempt to pass the cost burden on to patients, raising concerns that their care could become too expensive. However, the tax was expected to collect an estimated $3.2 billion a year to pay for Obamacare, and as such, its repeal is a nonstarter for most Democrats.


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The move still managed to garner some bipartisan support in the House, with 17 Democrats voting to strip out the tax.

House Republicans point to this concession as a fair compromise to avoid shutdown. Though some may argue that the removal of the medical device tax eliminates a portion of the funding for Obamacare, the lower chamber seems to have backed away from their previously firm all-or-nothing stance.

Their continuing resolution (CR) funds the government through December 15th. The House also passed a separate bill that guarantees military personnel a paycheck even if the government does go dark next week.

Reid has been pushing blame onto Republicans for the congressional mess of the past week, and his team in the Senate did not budge at news of the House’s olive branch. “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,” he said in a statement, adding, “After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one: Republicans must decide whether to pass the Senate’s clean CR, or force a Republican government shutdown.”


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For Reid and other Democrats, a “clean CR” means one that doesn’t touch Obamacare. The upper chamber is expected to kick a clean CR back to the House on Monday, leaving the GOP with the final word in the shutdown fight. But House Republicans aren’t about to take the heat lying down.

“If we have a shutdown, it will be because Harry Reid holds that absolutist position and essentially holds the American people hostage,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said in a recent interview. “He says, ‘I’m not willing to compromise, I’m not willing to even talk.’ His position is 100 percent of Obamacare must be funded in all instances. Other than that, he’s going to shut the government down.” Republican lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have echoed that sentiment, claiming a Democratic refusal to compromise is at the heart of the current maelstrom.

Some have speculated that Democrats actually want to shut the government down because it would offer them an opportunity to pile accusations on House Republicans and provide them with an arsenal of talking points in next year’s midterm election. Recent polling suggests that Americans may indeed hold Republicans responsible for a shutdown, regardless of the weekend’s efforts to forge a compromise.

As if to intensify the final hours of the spending bill showdown, Reid won’t even bring the Senate back into session until Monday afternoon. That will leave House Republicans with scarcely an evening to calculate their next move, as the all-but-inevitable shutdown will begin at midnight.

Much of the chaos of the CR fight is due to the fact that the Republican caucus has fractured over how to go about fighting Obamacare. Speaker of the House John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and the rest of the House leadership team never wanted to tie a healthcare revamp to the CR.

Instead, Boehner had wanted to use the upcoming debt ceiling debate as a way to push the Obamacare cuts through—but the conservative rank-and-file flatly rejected that plan. They wouldn’t even agree to use the debt ceiling vote as a back-up plan in case the CR fight turned sour; some in the House are even saying that they won’t raise the debt ceiling if they don’t get their way this time around.

With very few exceptions, congressional Democrats have moved in near lockstep with Reid and President Obama, further strengthening their position in the CR slog. The Republican compromise won’t silence rabidly anti-Obamacare voices and likely won’t be enough to avoid Monday night’s shutdown, making it a well-intentioned piece of political fluff.


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