As a large group of Republicans push for a government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act, Norm Ornstein offered some compelling context. “You could say it’s a do-nothing Congress but that doesn’t do justice to it,” he said. “These guys are doing something, which is to destroy the economic fabric of the country by holding the functions of government hostage to a non-negotiable demand to eliminate Obamacare.”
That’s plainly true, though Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), arguably the main ringleader of the scheme, apparently believes destroying the economic fabric of the country by holding the functions of government hostage to a non-negotiable demand to eliminate Obamacare is a fine idea. As Sarah Kliff reported, however, there is a flaw in the right-wing premise.
[L]et’s make the relatively bulletproof assumption that the White House isn’t on board with defunding Obamacare. The shutdown happens. And Obamacare implementation … well, it continues.
That’s according to a new Congressional Research Service report, requested by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and flagged by Post Politics’ Rachel Weiner.
This is no small revelation. For Cruz and his far-right allies, it’s now or never – either they fight tooth and nail to deny federal funding for the Affordable Care Act, or it’s implemented, Americans start receiving benefits, and turning back the clock will be largely impossible. If that means shutting down the government until they get their way, so be it. The key is to stop implementation, no matter the cost.
But Coburn, himself a far-right red-state senator, asked the non-partisan Congressional Research Service to investigate, and the CRS found that Cruz and other shutdown proponents haven’t quite done their homework. A government shutdown would matter, but it wouldn’t stop Obamacare’s implementation.
“It appears that substantial ACA implementation might continue during a lapse in annual appropriations that resulted in a temporary government shutdown,” CRS analysts concluded.
For one, Health and Human Services would be able to rely on “sources of funding other than annual discretionary appropriations to support implementation activities, including multiple-year and non-year discretionary funds still available for obligation as well as mandatory funds.”
A quick refresher on mandatory funds: These are billions in federal dollars that were appropriated by the Affordable Care Act and can’t be touched without repealing Obamacare itself…. Other Obamacare programs that the CRS doesn’t believe a shutdown would stop include the federal health insurance marketplace, the state-based insurance marketplaces and the individual mandate. Otherwise known as the most significant portions of the Affordable Care Act.
And what do the shutdown proponents have to say now? Amanda Terkel talked to Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) office late yesterday.
Lee’s communications director Brian Phillips dismissed the CRS report, saying it had nothing to do with what the senator and his allies – including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) – were pushing for.
“Maybe they could also ask CRS to do a report on what happens to Obamacare when pigs learn to fly,” Phillips said. “No one is calling for a shutdown, so this report is not at all relevant to what Senators Lee, Cruz and Rubio are arguing.”
“No one is calling for a shutdown”? This is getting weird, even by congressional Republican standards. Lee, Cruz, and their allies are absolutely making an explicit threat, and have been for weeks: either Democrats agree to gut the federal health care system or these GOP lawmakers will try to block the funding needed to keep the government’s lights on. Does Mike Lee’s office not understand Mike Lee’s own proposal?
What looked until recently like a scary proposal is now becoming a sad farce.