Shutdown: Democrats Trigger “All or Nothing” Bluff

By:  Thomas R. Eddlem
Shutdown: Democrats Trigger “All or Nothing” Bluff

The federal government entered into a partial shutdown at midnight October 1 as congressional leaders were unable to agree upon a “continuing resolution” appropriations bill to fund programs in the new fiscal year.

The partial shutdown — something that has happened 17 times since 1976, but not at all since 1996 — means that some non-essential federal agencies will close their doors, such as national parks and tour guides of Washington, D.C. government offices.

In the budgetary battle, Republican control of the House guarantees the party a constitutional stranglehold on government spending. All spending must be approved by the House of Representatives under the U.S. Constitution. But Democrats have dug in ideologically, and pledged that unless all functions of the federal government are funded, the Democrat-controlled Senate and White House will ensure that no funding bill becomes law. “Our negotiation is over with,” Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid told reporters September 30. “And I've said that for two weeks.” 

The question is: Will Republicans — who have all the constitutional leverage — bow to pressure and fund ObamaCare if poll numbers turn against them (as opinion polls already have done slightly)? Under the U.S. Constitution, Democrats cannot force Republicans to pass funding for ObamaCare. But in the 1995-96 shutdown crisis, House Republicans largely gave in to Clinton White House demands that government spending continue largely unchecked. Thus, employing the threat of a perpetual shutdown and trying to shift the blame to Republicans using the Democratic-controlled mass media may be the best means Democrats have to extract the ObamaCare funding. 

The Democratic-led U.S. Senate rejected a House-passed bill September 30 that would have funded all functions of the federal government except ObamaCare through December 15. The U.S. Senate voted down the House bill because it would have delayed the healthcare mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for one more year (the mandate took effect today), and because it repealed a medical device tax that would have funded much of the budgetary costs of ObamaCare. Democrats have demanded a “clean continuing resolution” in the budget battle, meaning that the appropriations bill would simply fund all functions of the federal government without any other changes in law within the bill. Republicans have insisted that funding in the bill not pay for ObamaCare, and added the medical device tax repeal to their version of the bill.

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