Republican senators are calling on House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to attach spending limits to an Obamacare program in a bill that must pass in the lame-duck session to keep the federal government open.
The strategy carries echoes of the 2013 government shutdown fight waged by the GOP over defunding Obamacare, although with smaller ambitions this time.
Fourteen conservative senators, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), wrote a letter to Boehner on Wednesday calling on him to use the continuing resolution — which must be enacted by Dec. 11 to avert a shutdown — to prohibit “unappropriated and unauthorized funds” under a market stability mechanism in Obamacare known as risk corridors. The program collects funds from insurers who enroll healthier patients and pays insurers who enroll sicker patients.
“As you know, the current CR will expire on December 11, 2014. Congress will undoubtedly have its feet held to the fire by the American people to pass another stop-gap appropriations bill avoiding a government shutdown,” the senators wrote to Boehner. “The American people expect us, as Members of Congress, to fulfill our Oath of Office and defend the Constitution. Therefore, we must act to protect Congress’ power of the purse and prohibit the Obama administration from dispersing unlawful risk corridor payments providing for an Obamacare taxpayer bailout.”
The other 13 signatories were Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Mike Lee (R-UT), David Vitter (R-LA), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Deb Fischer (R-NE), John McCain (R-AZ), John Boozman (R-AR), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Tom Coburn (R-OK).
The Department of Health and Human Services has called the risk corridor payments “user fees” and argued that it has the authority to manage the program. But a recent report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said the administration would need Congress to authorize a new appropriation to ensure that full payments can be made in the coming year.
The political climate after the midterm elections is difficult to predict, but it’s a foregone conclusion that Republicans will pick up seats in both chambers on Nov. 4. The victories could embolden the right flank of the party to claim a mandate for a more confrontational posture against President Barack Obama.
But if the White House and Senate Democrats — who will retain their 55-seat majority in December regardless of the election outcome — refuse to budge, House Republicans would have a choice between backing off or shutting down the government. That’s a risky proposition for Boehner, and one he would prefer to avoid. The question is whether the pressure becomes strong enough for him to take up the fight.
A Boehner spokesman didn’t immediately respond to query about whether he would be willing to wage a shutdown fight in the lame duck session.