Republican leaders in both chambers agreed months ago that a pre-election government shutdown simply wasn’t an option. There were some on the far right who tried to fan some flames, but it never spread.
Republicans did not, however, rule out a post-election shutdown. Aliyah Frumin reported earlier:
A group of Republican senators – led by Marco Rubio of Florida – sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and are calling on him to oppose any spending legislation for a program that’s part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act – a move that could potentially result in a government shutdown. […]If the House refuses to allow the provision into the spending bill – which would be vehemently opposed by the White House – a stalemate and government shutdown could occur. To avoid a shutdown, lawmakers will have to pass new spending legislation in the lame duck session before Dec. 11, which is when the current continuing budget resolution expires.
The fact that this is happening yet again is obviously tiresome. It was just two months ago that far-right congressional Republicans were making threats about a new shutdown – not to be confused with the previous GOP shutdown – and for Rubio and his allies to start making a new round of threats is unfortunate.
Indeed, it’s a little surprising these Republicans would even take the risk so soon before the midterm elections. Most of the country has long since forgotten last October, when GOP lawmakers shut down the government for no apparent reason. For Republicans to broach the subject again is a curious strategy.
Regardless, there are two relevant angles here: (1) whether they actually intend to go through with this; and (2) the policy the far-right lawmakers are complaining about.
On the former, it’s probably a mistake to dismiss this out of hand too quickly. When Louie Gohmert and Michele Bachmann send a letter about a government shutdown, everyone can just roll their eyes, but yesterday’s letter was sent by Marco Rubio, John McCain, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and 10 other Republican senators. These aren’t anonymous back-benchers with no influence.
For that matter, if Republicans were afraid to shut down the government shortly before the midterm elections, there will be no similar fear in December, during the lame-duck session, when Congress will have to pass a spending measure to keep the government’s lights on.
Roll Call’s report added this ominous sentence: “[House Speaker John Boehner’s] spokesman declined to comment when asked if he could rule out a shutdown showdown over the issue.”
As for the policy issue at hand, what Rubio and his allies want to do is block funding the government unless the package removes funding for “risk corridors” in the Affordable Care Act. And what’s a “risk corridor”? From Aliyah Frumin report:
The argument goes like this: Under Obamacare, insurance companies must sell policies to everyone equally, regardless of pre-existing conditions, so there is a chance that some insurers could wind up with a larger-than-expected number of unhealthy customers. The risk corridor provision provides protections from that possibility until 2016. The cost is covered by other insurance companies, which pay into the risk corridor fund when they set their own premiums much higher than was needed to cover their expenses.Proponents argue the provision will help level out premiums and smooth over entry into the program as insurers learn how to accurately price policies in the new marketplace.The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the provision will actually save the government $8 billion over the next three years.
There’s just one other thing to remember about this: as Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.), and George Miller (D-Calif.) explained in February, Republicans helped come up with the idea they’re now complaining about.
What’s most remarkable about their comments on risk corridors is that Republican leaders are denouncing a model they created to smooth out rate increases in prescription drug coverage under Medicare. When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted in 2003 to create Medicare Part D, he called the law “the most important social legislation … in my memory” and said it provided “a genuine opportunity for the private sector to actually compete in offering this new drug benefit.” House Republican Leader John Boehner made similar comments, noting in 2007, “By almost every measure, this drug benefit has exceeded expectations, and it continues to score high marks among seniors for providing big savings on their prescription costs.”An innovative part of the law McConnell and Boehner voted for was its “risk corridors” program, a new idea back in 2003. The corridors are a mechanism to distribute or balance risks across insurance companies, so that those that sign up healthier enrollees help those that attract sicker enrollees. Under the program, if insurers’ actual costs for medical claims are more than 3 percent below their expected costs, they will transmit a portion of their profits into the federal Treasury. Those funds will then be redistributed to insurers whose actual costs exceed their expected costs by more than 3 percent. The provisions were included in Medicare Part D to give the insurers confidence to enter a new market. And they worked.
As we discussed at the time, this leads to a fairly obvious question: if the policy is effective, and the policy was a Republican idea, why are Republicans all of a sudden pretending to be outraged by the measure four years after it became law?
And why would anyone be so foolish as to think this is a rational basis for a government shutdown?