Government Shutdown Looms Over Funding Obamacare
Policy + Politics

Government Shutdown Looms Over Funding Obamacare

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the outspoken conservative sometimes mentioned as a potential GOP candidate in 2016, said on Tuesday he would rather shut down the federal government than fund Obamacare. 

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation yesterday, he said that in the next 60 days this issue “is likely to prove the most important battle this Congress faces.”  But a new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) shows that a government shutdown would do nothing to stop the president’s signature health care law from being funded – and that implementing the president’s signature health bill would go forward as scheduled.

The report came in response to an inquiry from the office of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), asking how a government shutdown would affect Obamacare. According to CRS, and (likely) to Cruz’s dismay, it wouldn’t.

“It appears that substantial [Affordable Care Act] implementation might continue during a lapse in annual appropriations that resulted in a temporary government shutdown,” the report said. It noted that federal agencies could continue performing certain functions amid a shutdown, adding the individual mandate would continue.
Coburn’s office released the report just hours after Sen. Cruz called for a grassroots movement to pressure lawmakers to refuse to vote for a continuing resolution that included funding for Obamacare – even if that meant  forcing a government shutdown. Congress needs to pass a continuing resolution before Sept. 30, or the government will automatically shut down.

“Under no circumstances will I support a continuing resolution that funds even one penny of Obamacare,” Cruz said. He has the support of a few other key conservatives on this issue, including Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Cruz added that a government shutdown wouldn’t be as calamitous as the media and the president make it out to be.

On Tuesday he downplayed the long-term consequences of a shutdown and argued that the 1995 shutdown was not a disaster for Republicans, as many remember it. Instead, he said, “It actually led to some serious solutions to the fiscal and economic challenges facing this country,” adding that they “won years of balanced budgets” and held Congress in the 1996 election.

One reporter present during Cruz’s remarks at Heritage noted, however, that a 1995 Gallup poll showed the majority of Americans blamed Republicans for the shutdown.

Cruz and his conservative colleagues are trying to tie Obamacare funding to the looming budget battle. The senators are urging fellow GOP lawmakers to refuse to vote for any continuing resolution that includes funding for health care reform.

But not all Republicans are on board. Tom Coburn, who released the CRS report Tuesday, said
threatening a shutdown over Obamacare is unrealistic since the president would never sign a bill defunding his own law. As he told the Examiner, “it’s creating the false impression that you can do something when you can’t. And it’s dishonest.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill are divided over how hard to push the issue. House Republican leaders are planning to make opposition to the health care law a central part of the party’s message when they return to their districts for the August recess, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Many Republicans are resisting the tactics proposed by Cruz, Lee and others, including opposing government-wide spending measures needed to keep the government going beyond Sept. 30 if it includes any money to implement the health care law. Among those who haven’t signed a letter supporting the approach that Sen. Lee has been circulating is Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who will be facing a primary challenge from the right next year.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) also told the Associated Press last week that it was “the dumbest idea” he’d ever heard.