In a rare late Saturday session the U.S. House of Representatives late last night passed a bill that would keep the government funded until December but it added a measure to that bill that would delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act (the ACA or Obamacare) for a year.
That delay would postpone implementation of the insurance exchanges that are supposed to be available online in two days, October 1, 2013. Several other key features of the ACA have already been postponed for a year with bipartisan cooperation during the past few months. The Republican-controlled House last week had sent a version of the funding package to the Senate that would have defunded the ACA but that bill was modified and sent back to the House.
Squabbling between factions of the Republican party over the stance against the ACA finally resulted late this week with the Republicans offering the compromise package that would not completely defund the ACA but would delay implementation of the insurance exchanges.
Republican opposition to the exchanges relates to the high degree of uncertainty of exactly what will happen and the various penalties for employers that could be excessive and catastrophic for even employers who “do everything right” but run up against severe penalties due to situations beyond their control. The ACA has been found to contain many serious unintended consequences such as this but the Republican message regarding its concerns has become muddled and so diffuse that there is now an appearance that all they want to do is block anything and everything.
An added sticking point is that the ACA would put the Internal Revenue Service in a position to oversee many of the penalty items associated with the ACA and there is serious concern especially after the IRS debacle with heavy handed oppression of conservative groups just before the last presidential election.
Senate president Harry Reid, a Democrat, promised last night even before the votes were counted for the House funding bill to not allow the bill to even come to a vote in the Senate. President Obama promised to veto the bill if it were to somehow come to his desk.
Neither the House nor Senate were meeting today, Sunday, but both will be in regular session on Monday. And, at the eleventh hour, there are no signs that the two branches of government are even talking to each other.
In a separate bill passed by both parties last night with a unanimous vote, the House sent a measure to the Senate that would keep paychecks for the military on schedule if the government funding does fail. And, Social Security and other necessary program checks would continue as normal without being affected by the government shutdown.
Exactly what would happen in case of a government shutdown is still a bit unclear but we can expect national security, entitlement, and life safety programs to continue as normal. Some 800,000 “nonessential”, mostly bureaucratic, government employees would either be cut back in hours or furloughed.
Tomorrow, Monday, will be a day of anticipation with the House meeting in the morning and the Senate convening at 2 o'clock tomorrow afternoon. By late afternoon we should know whether the government will indeed shut down until the parties sort out their differences.