Government shutdown looms as Congress battles over continuing resolution to fund government

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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The Senate and the House have seven days to agree on a plan to fund the government, or the government will shutdown. The clock is ticking.

The continuing resolution currently funding the government expires on September 30, and Republicans and Democrats have found themselves once again at loggerheads over just what a new resolution should look like. The sticking point: Obamacare, which a number of Republicans believe should be defunded in any continuing resolution, a plan most Democrats heartily disapprove of.

On Friday, the House passed a continuing resolution that would fund the government at sequestration levels through December 15 but defund Obamacare. The vote fulfills the desire voiced by several Republican senators — including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — to tie defunding the president’s health care law to the overall funding of the government.

“If there is ever a time to defeat Obamacare, it is now,” Cruz said at a July briefing at the Heritage Foundation. “Moreover, we have, I believe, the best opportunity we will have, and possibly the last good opportunity we will have to defund Obamacare with the continuing resolution.”

“If the subsidies kick in, the prospect or full repeal of Obamacare diminish dramatically,” Cruz added.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared any bill that defunded the health care law “dead” on arrival in the Senate, and several Republican senators have acknowledged that fact.

“I don’t think the president will sign any legislation to defund Obamacare, and neither will the Senate pass any legislation to defund Obamacare,” said Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, saying that Republicans lacked both unity and the will to go over the edge.

“President Obama and the Democrats know Republicans won’t go through the deadline, he knows we’re just not serious, so he has the upper hand,” Paul said.

Even Cruz has acknowledged passing a continuing resolution defunding Obamacare in the Senate is unlikely.

“Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so,” Cruz said in a statement Wednesday, after House leadership announced its intention to vote on the plan. He drew a significant amount of flack from House Republicans for that statement, many of whom felt he was unwilling to put his money where his mouth was, and the next day, Cruz, possibly to show that that was not the case, resolved to do “everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare,” including filibustering.

But a number of Senate Republicans have already come out against the idea. North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr told The Huffington Post: “I said it was the dumbest idea I’d ever heard of. I still think it’s a dumb idea, because you can’t defund Obamacare.”

Most observers believe Reid is likely to find the 60 votes he needs to overcome a filibuster.

What happens after that is not entirely clear. House Republicans repeatedly declined to delineate any specific plan for what they would do if the Senate amended the continuing resolution and sent it back to the House without the provision defunding the health care law, saying they were not going to “speculate” on what the Senate would do.

One plan that has been floated, according to Louisiana Republican Rep. John Fleming, is to pass a clean continuing resolution and kick the fight over Obamacare over to the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling, which will begin as soon as an agreement is reached to fund the government. Fleming said one possibility was to trade a debt ceiling increase for a delay in Obamacare implementation, among other things, though it is not clear how many House Republicans would support the passage of a clean continuing resolution.

Republican Colorado Rep. Raul Labrador said last week that there were also “other options” on the table if the Senate amended the continuing resolution, though he declined to elaborate. Politico reported that the House might then amend the bill to remove the health care subsidies for members of Congress and their staffs — something that Democratic senators oppose  — and send it back to the Senate close enough to the deadline for a continuing resolution as possible in an effort to force the Senate to accept it or risk a government shutdown over the unpopular provision.

Many Republicans have already painted the subsidies as a special exemption for lawmakers from Obamacare.

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Alexis Levinson