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This Week in Washington: Obamacare, Debt and Budget Woes


Ask yourself this question: if the GOP are scared to fight something as unpopular as Obamacare on a plain continuing resolution, would they really fight something like Medicare reform with the specter of a default?

This week will be the climax of the final battle to block Obamacare before it is implemented on October 1.  For the first time in the budget battle, the focus of attention will be on the Senate, particularly Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.  However, conservatives need to ensure that House leaders remain resolute.  There are signs that they plan to surrender the defund fight and give the illusion that they will move the battle lines to the debt ceiling.

Budget Continuing Resolution/Obamacare

Last week, after much arm-twisting from the conservative grassroots, the GOP leaders in the House agreed to pass a continuing resolution completely defunding Obamacare.  On Friday, the House passed H.J.Res. 59, which funds the federal government through December 15 while defunding Obamacare indefinitely.  The continuing resolution passed 230-198 with the support of two Democrats.  Now the fight moves to the Senate.

When discussing the continuing resolution battle in the Senate, we must always remember that Republicans have two advantages.  First, all spending bills must originate in the House, which is currently controlled by Republicans.  Second, the Democrats do not control the Senate the same way Republicans control the House.  Republicans have more than 41 Senators, and thus have the ability to block any effort to strip out the defund rider from the continuing resolution.

With this in mind, it’s easy to understand where the battle lines are drawn in the Senate this week.  Harry Reid is planning to use his typical procedural maneuvering as Majority Leader to exempt his amendment [to strike the defund rider] from the 60-vote threshold, thereby enabling his caucus to send back a clean continuing resolution to the House.  He will fill the amendment tree and not allow any other amendments to be offered.

Now is the time for Mitch McConnell to shine.  As long as all of the Members of Congress who claim to be supportive of defunding Obamacare stick together, they can block any effort to undermine the defund rider.  They can demand that Reid require a 60-vote threshold to strike out the rider or face a filibuster on the initial motion to proceed with the bill.  Perforce, if there is no agreement to treat the motion to strike amendment like every other amendment, all Republicans must oppose the motion to proceed.  This will enable House Republicans to retain the upper hand in negotiations as being the only body that can pass a bill keeping the federal government afloat.

The vote on motion to proceed will probably take place very early Wednesday morning, setting the stage for a vote on final passage on Saturday or Sunday.  If McConnell and the establishment fail to hold the line, allowing Reid to send back a clean continuing resolution without defunding Obamacare, House conservatives must refuse to negotiate.  They should pass individual funding bills, starting with appropriations for defense and the veterans.  Then they should dare Senate Democrats to vote against it all for the purpose of preserving Obamacare.  This is a fight conservatives cannot afford to lose.

Debt Ceiling

Even as the fight over defunding Obamacare in the continuing resolution reaches its apex this week in the Senate, House GOP leadership plans to move a debt ceiling package as early as this Thursday.  Last month, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned that the Treasury Department would run out of maneuvering room to circumvent the debt limit some time during the second half of October.  After hitting the $16.394 trillion debt ceiling earlier this year, Congress voted to suspend the debt limit until May 18.  At that point, the debt ceiling was automatically raised to $16.699 trillion to accommodate the remainder of the year, relying on “extraordinary measures” for the past few months in order to keep issuing debt even after breeching the new limit.

Based on media reports, it appears that Republicans plan to raise the debt ceiling in return for a hodgepodge of demands.  The demand for raising the debt ceiling is supposedly a mixture of the kitchen sink – delaying Obamacare for a year, approving the Keystone pipeline, passing the regulatory reform REINS Act, and some possible tweaks to entitlements.  It is unclear at this point how much of an increase they are willing to offer:

Conservative concerns:

A Bait-and-Switch in Obamacare Fight – Looking broadly at this proposal, there are two questions that come to mind.  1) Why are they pushing a new battle while we are in middle of the defund Obamacare fight over the continuing resolution? 2) Assuming they plan to actually stand behind the House continuing resolution, why are they sticking in a one-year Obamacare delay to the debt ceiling?  This is creating some concern that House leaders plan to cave on the continuing resolution and dangle the debt ceiling as the new “next fight” promise to the conference.

Simplicity of Message – Isn’t defunding Obamacare a much simpler message?  Try messaging this: “All right boys, if they don’t give us Keystone pipeline, regulatory reform, one-year delay [but not defund] of Obamacare, entitlement reform, and possibly tax reform, we’re not raising the debt ceiling.”  Something like Cut, Cap, and Balance was much easier to message to the American people.

Specter of Default – GOP leaders have said a number of times that they are terrified of the debt ceiling fight because they buy into the notion that we would automatically default on our credit.  The only time they are not scared of it is when they want to use the debt ceiling as the carrot to lure us away from fighting on a continuing resolution.  Ask yourself this question: if these same people are scared to fight something as unpopular as Obamacare on a plain continuing resolution, would they really fight something like Medicare reform with the specter of a default?

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