President Obama was understandably grumpy at the formal launch of the Affordable Care Act during a Rose Garden ceremony Monday afternoon. ACA health insurance exchanges just opened amid a government shutdown late Monday night after House Republicans refused to extend government spending authority absent major changes in the president’s signature health care law.
Anyone looking for a conciliatory word or two from Obama that might create an opening for immediate negotiations with congressional Republicans on a deal were disappointed. Obama dispelled that with combative remarks repeating his assertion that Republicans and their Tea Party allies were holding the nation “ransom” to extract concessions over the 2010 health care law that has been upheld by the Supreme Court and ratified by voters in the last election.
“Nobody gets to hurt our economy and millions of hard-working families over a law you don’t like,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of things that I would like to see passed through Congress that the House Republicans haven’t passed yet, and I’m not out there saying I’m going to let America default unless Congress does something they don’t want to do. That’s not how adults operate. Certainly, that’s not how our government should operate.”
“So my basic message to Congress is this,” Obama concluded. “Pass a budget, end the government shutdown, pay your bills. Don’t wait, don’t delay. Don’t put our economy or our people through this any longer.”
The president’s intensity mirrored the discipline of congressional Democrats in the face of the first shutdown in 17 years. While just a few weeks ago Obama seemed to have a spine made of Silly Putty when it came to Syria and its chemical weapons, he spoke today with a resolve indicating that any retreat would have to come from House Republicans. Part of his new resolve may reflect the hard line being pushed by a feisty Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV). Polls show that Americans are more inclined to blame the GOP than Obama and the Democrats for a shutdown.
Early today, Reid and his Senate Democrats blew off House Republicans’ call for a long overdue bargaining session to try to bridge the gulf separating them on spending policies and the future of Obamacare.
House Republican leaders have refused to negotiate with Senate Democrats on a new budget for six months. But as the clock ran out on talks last night, the House urged the Senate to meet in a special conference committee to settle differences on how to fund the government, including whether to link funding to changes in the health-care law as the GOP is insisting.
Senate leaders say they are willing to have a conference committee, but refuse to do it during a government shutdown with a “gun to their heads.” And they say they will not allow Republicans to continue to demand major changes in Obamacare as the price for a deal to fund the government. “The government is closed. . . because of the irrationality of what is going on the other side of the Capitol,” Reid said after the party-line vote.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blamed his Democratic colleagues for the impasse, insisting that Obama and the Senate Democrats were the only ones eager to have a government shutdown. He said that House Republicans had shown repeatedly a willingness to narrow their differences with the White House after initially calling for the repeal of Obamacare.
The latest budget legislation passed by the House — hours before Monday’s midnight deadline for a shutdown — sought to undermine Obamacare by delaying enforcement of the “individual mandate,” a cornerstone of the law that requires all Americans to obtain health insurance. The continuing resolution also sought to strip lawmakers and their aides of long-standing government health benefits.
There’s no telling whether the shutdown will be a brief one or go as long as the 26 day shutdown back in 1995 and 1996, when Republicans controlled the House and Senate and Democrat Bill Clinton was in the White House. Jared Bernstein, a former Obama administration economics adviser, said during an interview on MSNBC that if the shutdown is short, then there probably won’t be any long-term damage to the underlying markets – noting that the markets so far have shrugged off the crisis.
“If this drags on, the economic impacts will begin to show. Some of the agencies have carryover funds, unobligated balances, they could keep going for a few weeks,” Bernstein said. “But after that, then you’ll see more of a pinch on the economy. And if the markets begin to believe that the opposition in Congress will actually breach the debt ceiling, then we have a very serious economic problem.”