Senate Passes the Budget Hot Potato Back to the House

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Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zieak/

The countdown clocks have taken center stage. Less than 10 hours remain until the new fiscal year starts at midnight on October 1, and if policymakers fail to pass a short-term funding measure — known as a continuing resolution — non-essential government operations will begin shutting down come Tuesday morning, and the atmosphere is thick with pessimism. The latest vote on Monday simply showed that policymakers are determined to stand their ground.

At issue is the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare), which has become so politically divisive that policymakers have had pretty much no choice but to dig trenches on either side of the issue and lob rhetoric-packed grenades at each other. Fighting began in earnest last week with the opening salvo from the GOP. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a continuing resoluation that would defund Obamacare that pretty much began every shutdown clock across the nation ticking.

Defunding the president’s healthcare law is pretty much anathema for Democrats, and a Senate vote on Friday afternoon sent the resolution back to the House sans the defunding measure. This was the beginning of a high-stakes game of political hot potato that continued into Monday.

Early on Sunday morning, the House voted on and passed a CR that would not defund Obamacare, but would instead only delay its implementation for one year (the controversial exchanges are scheduled to open on Tuesday, alongside the start of the new fiscal year for the government). The House CR also called for the removal of a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices that is designed to help pay for the ACA.

As expected, on Monday afternoon the U.S. Senate voted to kill the House measure and sent back a “clean” continuing resolution, the latest play in a high-stakes game that has the nation facing the very real possibility of a partial government shutdown come midnight.

GOP lawmakers, vehemently urged by the party’s most conservative faction, have tried to use the end of the government’s fiscal year (October 1) and the need to pass a continuing resolution as an opportunity to derail the ACA. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats (who control the Senate) have refused to accept any changes to the ACA as part of a continuing resolution, and have rejected all House measures that edit the healthcare law in any way.

With the ball ostensibly in its court, it’s unclear what the House will do. One possibility is the so-called nuclear option, a proposal which would eliminate healthcare subsidies for members of Congress and their staff. Forcing a vote on such a matter could look make Democrats look bad. If they want to protect the ACA as it stands, then they would have effectively vote in favor of their own healthcare perks.

President Barack Obama, for his part, has made it clear that he will likely exercise his veto power on any measure that damaged the ACA.

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