Obamacare Repeal Could Hinge on Government Shutdown, Debt Ceiling

Defunding Obamacare may hinge on the threat of a government shutdown.


Marking the one-year anniversary of Obamacare becoming law, congressional Republicans are doing their level best to repeal the law.

The first thing they did, after coming into the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, was to pass H.R. 2, a comprehensive piece of legislation that totally repealed the new healthcare law. Unfortunately for the GOP, the law’s 60-vote requirement in the U.S. Senate means total repeal is unlikely to go anywhere, meaning the legislation is going to have to be dismantled piece by piece.

Even there, however, there is considerable disagreement over what strategies to pursue. Federal Judge Roger Vinson’s finding that the entire law is unconstitutional because of the individual mandate upon which much of it rests means that, for a time at least, the mandate—arguably the singularly most unpopular portion of the legislation—must remain in place. Its removal would render Vinson’s decision moot. [See a slide show of 10 ways the GOP can take down Obamacare.]

House Republican leaders are generally united on the idea that the Obama administration will get no more new money to fund the law’s implementation. There is less unanimity of opinion, however, on the idea that they should take steps to pull back the money the administration has already received thanks to a number of self-funding mechanisms that were included in the original law. According to some estimates, that may be as much as $105 billion.

Getting that money back is not as simple as it may seem, as it all may hinge on the threat of a government shutdown. Efforts to include provisions taking back the money may be offered to the next continuing resolution, as Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King and Minnesota GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann would like to do. But to make such a threat stick, it would first have to win the approval of 60 U.S. senators and, after that, President Barack Obama—who is thought unlikely to want to defund his signature accomplishment, even if it means shutting down the government to defend it.

In a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, both King and Bachmann argue that “The success of our effort to shut off funding for ObamaCare will hinge on the leverage points of this first session of the 112th Congress—namely the CR, which expires on March 18th, and the vote on raising the debt ceiling. We recognize the work to defund ObamaCare began with the inclusion of language in H.R. 1 to restrict annual appropriations from being used to implement the law. However, we also recognize that even this language, if enacted, leaves on the table $105.5 billion in automatically appropriated funds for the law's implementation. We cannot successfully defund ObamaCare without shutting off these automatically appropriated funds.” [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on healthcare.]

“If we do not stand our ground on the CR, leverage it as the ‘must pass bill’ that it is, and use it to stop the $105.5 billion in automatically appropriated funds,” the two Republicans said, “ObamaCare will be implemented on our watch. We will also have conceded a significant amount of ground on this issue and will find it difficult, if not impossible, to regain the strategic advantage in future legislative vehicles.”

There are those who have already likened the GOP’s effort to repeal Obamacare as akin to putting the toothpaste back into the tube, something that, once done, is almost impossible to undo. The fallback position may be to slow things down enough to allow the 2014 deadlines within the original legislation to come and go without allowing the administration to make any real progress on creating the bureaucracy necessary to oversee Obamacare—hoping that there will be in place a U.S. Senate and a president who are more open to the idea of reform and repeal than the current crew.

  • Check out a roundup of political cartoons on healthcare.
  • See a slide show of 10 ways the GOP can take down Obamacare.
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