It sounds good, cutting $105.5 billion in funding for ObamaCare through 2019 by including a provision in the stop-gap spending measures that are temporarily funding government until a real budget is passed. Some conservative Republicans like Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Rep. Steve King are speaking up and insisting that House Republican leadership include the provision, but so far leadership has not added it, and other conservative Republicans are agreeing with leadership. Which side is right?
There have been several short-term continuing resolutions extending government funding passed this year. The most recent one passed the House and Senate earlier this week, extending government funding through April 8. It includes $6 billion in spending cuts, $2.6 billion of which was earmarks, bringing to $10 billion in unexpected cuts Republicans have been able to negotiate with these bills. Fewer Republicans voted for the most recent extension, no doubt due to the escalating pressure to oppose it because it did not include a defunding mechanism for ObamaCare.
While it looks good to the voters to insist on including a provision defunding ObamaCare, the effect of adding the provision would likely result in a worse outcome. The Democrat-controlled Senate will not vote to pass a stop-gap bill that includes defunding all of ObamaCare, and President Obama especially would never sign a bill that guts the masterpiece of his administration. Without a stop-gap bill, there will be another government shutdown, something that backfired on the Republican Congress in the 1990’s. While it sounds good in theory to force government to shut down over ObamaCare, there is a very good chance doing so will induce a Pandora’s Box of distracting collateral issues, ruining any chances of repealing ObamaCare.
The last two stop-gap bills include $10 billion in spending cuts that would not have been obtained otherwise. This represents the classic scenario members of Congress encounter; do they vote against the stop-gap continuing resolutions, citing principle, or do they take the realistic approach that achieves real fiscal gains?
Unfortunately, several conservative organizations that grade candidates, including the Heritage Foundation’s new lobbying arm, Club for Growth, Family Research Council, and some Tea Party groups are scoring members of Congress poorly who vote for the continuing resolutions. It is rather unfair considering every Republican in the House voted to repeal ObamaCare in January. Voting for that bill is no different than voting for a stop-gap bill that includes defunding ObamaCare; the Senate and Obama will never approve either of them.
There are also efforts to include a provision that eliminates funding for abortion providers. Again, if this kind of provision is included in a stop-gap bill, it is highly unlikely the Senate and Obama will approve the bill. This is all too similar to the manipulation used with pro-life provisions in the ObamaCare bill. Pro-life provisions were put into ObamaCare as a ruse in order to persuade pro-life Democrats to support ObamaCare. There were other ways the pro-life issue could have been dealt with, and there was a risk the provisions would not be adequate. Regrettably, the latter proved true and did nothing but enable the passage of ObamaCare.
There has been some debate over whether the $105.5 billion could even technically be included in the stop-gap bill. It would violate House rules because the bill is an appropriations bill, not an authorization bill. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-K., says you cannot use an appropriations bill to take away “authorized” money. The funding mechanism for ObamaCare was cleverly snuck into ObamaCare so that it could bypass appropriations in the future. There is also a problem with defunding ObamaCare through 2019 in this bill; House rules only permit defunding through 2011. There is only $2.88 billion left authorized for ObamaCare this fiscal year. Whereas the spending cuts negotiated in the continuing resolutions are twice that amount. Of course, advocates of including the defunding provision point out that House leadership could easily get enough support to waive the rules.
There may be another way to get around Obama and the Democrats in the Senate. The House and Energy Committee is working on legislation to defund $81.9 billion of ObamaCare in future years. Senate Democrats and Obama will be less likely to veto energy legislation.
A final concern is that eliminating ObamaCare immediately may interfere with efforts to get it struck down in the courts. Two federal court judges have now ruled against ObamaCare. The decision by Judge Roger Vinson of the Federal District Court in Florida went the furthest, holding that the insurance mandate makes the entire bill unconstitutional. If cutting funding eliminates the mandate, it may render the decision moot. Since the courts generally have final say over anything Congress passes, a court decision getting rid of ObamaCare would be superior to Congressional action.
The latest stop-gap continuing resolution expires on April 8. Congress will most likely vote on another temporary stop-gap measure at that time if the Democrats and Republicans are still in disagreement on an annual budget. As the truth about the provision to defund ObamaCare gets out, it will be revealing to see which Republican members of Congress still believe that voting against the stop-gap measures is a principled position that outweighs pragmatism.