An impending clash between House and Senate Republicans over a pair of health care-related bills is becoming a potential stumbling block as congressional leaders attempt to reach a deal to fund the government past the end of the week.
But the disagreement between moderates in the Senate and conservatives in the House over two provisions meant to prevent health care premiums from spiking is again raising the specter of a damaging government shutdown at midnight Friday.
Politico reported that the latest in a series of shifting strategies involved the House voting on Thursday to pass critical legislation in several separate bills, as a concession to the various factions within the GOP conference, and then leaving town for Christmas.
House leadership plans to move a four-week stopgap measure funding both defense and domestic spending, then separately pass an $81 billion hurricane disaster package and reauthorization of the federal foreign surveillance law – both of which have strident opponents.
Fiscal conservatives have repeatedly refused to support disaster relief legislation without equivalent spending reductions and have made their objections known over the current legislation, which includes aid to areas hit by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria earlier this year as well as wildfires in California and the West. Meanwhile, civil libertarians in both parties will oppose reauthorizing the controversial Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a provision that allows the U.S. to collect communications of non-Americans outside the U.S., which expires at the end of the year.
But in the Senate, the slower legislative process ahead of Friday’s looming deadline means the bills will almost certainly be rolled together, which would require the House to vote again. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has also promised to fold the two bills stabilizing the health care law into the year-end spending package as part of a bid to convince Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to support the Republicans’ tax overhaul.
The first of the two bills would provide funding for two years to the health care law’s cost-sharing program by providing subsidies to insurers to provide cheap plans for low-income customers while granting states more flexibility to approve insurance plans. President Donald Trump cut off payments for the subsidies earlier this year at the behest of conservatives who oppose the subsidies as a giveaway to insurance companies.
The other would set aside $4.5 billion for two years for a reinsurance fund, which would help mitigate the expense to insurers of covering their most risky – and most costly – customers. Both measures are an attempt to offset the effects of the tax overhaul repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate provision that requires most Americans to purchase health care or pay a penalty.
At least one Senate Republican – Rand Paul of Kentucky – has said he plans to vote against the spending bill because of objections to increasing the deficit. On Wednesday, he said he planned to filibuster the bill if it includes a “any long-term extension of warrantless searches of American citizens,” referring to the FISA reauthorization.
Many House Republicans have already flatly rejected supporting a spending bill that includes the Obamacare-stabilization measures, as they see it as propping up a bill that they want to eliminate. They hope by drawing a line in the sand – and passing the bills separately – they’ll force the Senate to swallow their version of the bill rather than risk a shutdown.
But Democrats, aware that Senate Republicans will need at least nine – and likely more – of their votes to get any spending bill through, will be little inclined to prevent Republicans from walking into a mess of their own making.