House Republicans' irresponsible brinkmanship may finally lead to the government shutdown that some of its members have been coveting since they took control of that chamber in 2011. This time, though, the fight hasn't been a battle over spending on federal agencies. It's been a symbolic one over the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. And it's been a sham.
The inconvenient truth for the GOP is that "defunding Obamacare," as the House tried to do, wouldn't stop most of the major provisions of the healthcare law, some of which have already gone into effect. That's because the new insurance rules, premium subsidies and many other features of the law don't rely on discretionary dollars; they're on fiscal autopilot.
The Senate rejected the defunding proposal, yet House Republicans keep sending over versions of the stopgap spending bill that try to undermine healthcare reform. Their supporters say they're just trying to negotiate improvements in the law, but that's disingenuous. The House GOP proposals would raise the deficit and potentially send premiums skyrocketing for individual policies, hurting the constituents most in need of that coverage.
Not surprisingly, Republicans have sought to blame the impending shutdown on Democrats, who have resisted the GOP's healthcare demands. But Senate Democrats have already conceded to the House on the funding bill's key fiscal dispute, namely, how much federal agencies can spend in the coming weeks. That concession would cut billions of dollars from the projected deficit. The hard-liners in the House GOP simply refuse to declare victory and move on; instead they're determined to keep fighting over Obamacare, without regard for the consequences.
The shutdown that loomed Tuesday, although partial, would still leave Americans without numerous protections and benefits that they rely on, including admissions into clinical trials, the processing of visa applications and the approval of new mortgage and small-business loan guarantees. While the Pentagon's payroll wouldn't be disrupted, other "essential" safety and health employees would stay on the job without paychecks until the impasse was resolved.
Unlike the GOP's previous flirtations with a government shutdown, this fight isn't being waged in the name of lower deficits and debt. It's just a desperate attempt to score political points against the Affordable Care Act before it goes fully into effect and the benefits become clearer. As House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) said over the weekend, "It's unfortunate that yet again we are in this situation facing another shutdown showdown with no solution to our many fiscal problems in sight." He can thank his colleagues in the House GOP for that.