Topics: Obamacare

Senate conservatives primed for Obamacare gambit

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Democratic proponents of Obamacare deny that a vote by House Republicans to fund the government while defunding Obamacare will have any policy significance, but the Senate conservatives who have long called for such a vote believe they have the opportunity to attack Obamacare in a way that delivers a policy victory for opponents of the law.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his caucus will doubtless defeat the proposal, an outcome that Republicans desire because it will force vulnerable Democrats to take an unpopular vote.

"It's going to create a very difficult vote for red-state Democrats," an aide to one of the pro-defunding senators, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Examiner. "At the end of the day, there will be a vote to support defunding or to oppose it, and Harry Reid is going to force his members to vote his way, and then we're going to have those votes. We're going to have the votes from [Alaska Democratic Senator Mark] Begich and from Kay Hagan, [D-N.C.] and from Pryor [D-Ark.] that are voting to shut down the government in order to protect Obamacare. So, we're going to win something out of this."

At that point, House Republicans can pass another continuing resolution that still achieves an Obamacare-related policy victory, short of fully defunding the law. "They can pass a CR that includes the Vitter language or that includes the Thune language on unions," the aide said, referring to a bill proposed by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that ensures Congress is not exempt from Obamacare and another item from Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., to prevent President Obama's team from giving extra subsidies to labor unions.

Don't be surprised if Boehner has another bill in mind, though: the "No Subsidies Without Verification Act," offered by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., to prevent Obamacare subsidies from being disbursed until the administration can implement fraud prevention measures.

Boehner promoted that bill last week when he had Black deliver the weekly Republican address. "[I]n an attempt to prop up its struggling health care law, the Obama administration decided they'd hand out subsidies without verifying who's eligible," Black said in the address.

"They just want to rely on the honor system. You heard that right: instead of exercising common sense and accountability, the Administration is willing to just give away your tax dollars – no questions asked.Not only is that unfair to hardworking taxpayers like you, it opens the door a mile wide to fraud and abuse."

The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein, who coined the phrase that became the name of Black's bill after the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would not implement the anti-fraud measures, explained the significance of such a proposal at the time.

"If such a piece of legislation becomes law, it would effectively delay one of the central provisions of Obamacare indefinitely, because after more than three years, the government has not been able to figure out a way to meet the technological challenge of verification," Klein wrote.

The idea that House Republicans might counter with Obamacare delay contained in Black's bill is perhaps bolstered by the fact that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., recently proposed using the debt ceiling to force a delay of Obamacare as an alternative to the continuing resolution to defund the health care law.

For all the talk of a government shut down, if the ultimate legislative outcome follows anything like such a process, it will have played out just as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., predicted before the August recess.

"What happens if Democrats don't [pass the House's continuing resolution defunding Obamacare]? What happens typically and historically is the bills come together and there's a conference committee and people work [out] a compromise," Paul told reporters at the 2013 Young Americans for Liberty convention in July.

He compared the coming fight over the continuing resolution to the debt ceiling fight of 2011, when he supported legislation that would tie a debt ceiling increase to a balanced budget amendment.

"We didn't get it passed in the Senate, but you know what the compromise was? The sequester," Paul said. "We shifted the debate [and] we wound up with the sequester — which, really, while it only cuts the rate of growth of government, is probably one of the few things where we're at least pulling in the right direction around here."

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