A few days ago Republican Sen. Tom Coburn asked the Congressional Research Service to look into what would happen to the implementation of Obamacare if the government were to shut down. On Monday, Coburn got his answer: Obamacare would likely go on, whether the government shuts down or not.
The CRS report explains that Congress created a variety of sources of mandatory funds — money that would continue to flow even in a government shutdown — that the administration could use to fund Obamacare. Because of threats of a shutdown last year, the administration has already studied ways to keep Obamacare going, and CRS pointed toward several sources of money the administration is using for the job now. Among them: $235 million from the Health Insurance Reform Implementation Fund; $454 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund (which has a permanent appropriation in Obamacare); $450 million from the Department of Health and Human Services Nonrecurring Expenses Fund; and $116 million from the HHS secretary’s authority to transfer funds within the department.
Even though the administration has asked Congress for more money to implement Obamacare, the CRS concludes: “In the event that congressional appropriators do not provide any of [the requested] funds, or in the event of a temporary lapse in discretionary appropriations that results in a government shutdown, it seems likely that the administration will continue to rely on alternative sources of funding to support ACA implementation activities.”
The CRS report also notes that the Internal Revenue Service would still have the legal authority to collect taxes and user fees for Obamacare in the event of a shutdown. The government would also still have the authority to hand out the subsidies that are the heart of Obamacare. And the report says the state and federal exchanges would continue to operate during a shutdown.
Coburn cited the report during an exchange on the Senate floor with Sens. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio — three of the leading proponents of defunding Obamacare. Successfully stopping Obamacare would require 67 votes in the Senate, Coburn argued — far more than the 46 Republicans have now.