Beyond the Scary Headlines: Three Key Facts about the Defund ObamaCare Battle
Defund = shutdown? No.
On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution that will keep the federal government funded through December and also defunds ObamaCare. Notwithstanding those facts, some media outlets have reported this news as a case of the GOP threatening to shut down the government. MSNBC for example used the headline “GOP pushes government toward shutdown,” while CNN went with “House GOP launches shutdown battle by voting to defund ObamaCare.”
The United States, by the way, has a bicameral form of legislature. Of the two houses of Congress, only the House of Representatives—the one controlled by the Republicans—has passed a bill that will avert a government shutdown on October 1. The Senate has yet to take up the bill, but will do so this week. So who wants to shut down the government unless he gets everything he wants? We can say for certain that President Obama has said he would veto the continuing resolution if it reaches his desk in the form passed by the House.
For those who want to look it up themselves instead of relying on MSNBC and CNN, the House bill that funds the government—passed mostly with Republican votes—is House Joint Resolution 59.
Is Sen. Ted Cruz going to oppose a bill he pushed the House to pass? No.
The arcane ways of the Senate played a key role in getting ObamaCare passed (or deemed to have passed); and now they may come up again in the battle to defund ObamaCare. Some reports speculate that Majority Leader Harry Reid may rely on a “motion to strike” maneuver that would strip the continuing resolution of the defunding language. The key thing to know is that the “motion to strike” can occur only after cloture has been invoked ending debate with the House bill still intact. Cloture requires 60 votes. A motion to strike, only 51. The Democrats, holding only 52 seats (along with two independents that normally vote with the Democrats), might not be able to muster 60 votes to remove the defunding language.
If that “motion to strike” scenario occurs, the positions of the parties would appear to be backwards if you don’t understand the procedural gimmick in play. By opposing cloture, the pro-defund side would appear to be voting against the House bill while the Democrats who want to preserve ObamaCare funding would appear to be voting for the House bill.
What would really be going on is that those opposing cloture are trying to uphold the 60-vote threshold. As Sen. Cruz explains on Monday at Real Clear Politics:
Until Reid guarantees a 60-vote threshold on all amendments, a vote for cloture is a vote for Obamacare. It would amount to giving the Democrats a green light to fund Obamacare with 51 votes. […] I intend to use every tool available to me to defund Obamacare, and am encouraged by the thousands of phone calls, tweets, and emails that come to my office each day.
“Government shutdown” = government shutdown? No.
“Government shutdown” is the phrase the media has been peddling to describe what will happen if no funding bill is passed by October 1, but it’s not at all an accurate description. Yes, the government will have to stop doing certain things if Congress fails to appropriate money for them. Many of the most important government functions will continue. Air traffic control will still keep airplanes from colliding, the military will still defend the country, and Social Security and Medicare benefits will still be paid.
As Hans von Spakovsky explains in a recent Heritage Foundation paper, the federal Anti-Deficiency Act, which governs what happens when the government has no appropriated funds for its operations, says government functions that are necessary to protect the safety of human life or protect property will continue. Benefit payments would also continue because they are already authorized by law and do not rely on appropriations bills. In past “shutdowns,” very few federal employees were actually furloughed because so many were deemed necessary to provide essential services. Spakovsky notes:
There have been 17 funding gaps since 1977 ranging in duration from one to 21 days. In November 1995, when President Bill Clinton vetoed a CR and there was a funding gap for five days, only about 800,000 out of a total of 4.475 million federal employees were furloughed.
Only about 280,000 federal employees were furloughed during the December 1995 to January 1996 funding gap. During this time, the Social Security Administration initially retained about 5,000 employees and then called back an additional 50,000 employees within three days to continue paying benefits and processing new claims, keeping over 80 percent of the total employees of the agency employed despite the lack of a CR. [Internal citations omitted.]
So when you hear “government shutdown,” recent history says you should understand this to mean a mild government slowdown.