Because the government shutdown of 1995–96 hurt Republicans more than Democrats, the GOP hesitated to risk a government shutdown over Obamacare. But in the House, the troops have now rallied. The House has once again sent to the Senate a bill that would fund the government without Obamacare. That was the right thing to do — and the House should stand its ground, because it could well win this time.
There is a crucial difference between what’s happening now and the budget battle between House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Clinton repeatedly vetoed budget bills that contained measures he vehemently disagreed with. Had he done otherwise, he would have been accepting GOP policy on crucial items such as how regulations are enacted. From his point of view, the House bills contained poisoned pills he couldn’t swallow.
In this case, the House is sending the Senate a budget that contains no poison pills. Except for leaving Obamacare funding to be negotiated separately, the budget is just how the president likes it. If he signs it, he won’t be accepting GOP policy over his own on any detail; he won’t be swallowing any poison pill. If he vetoes it he will be shutting down the government even though the House has fully funded the government without any poison pills. And no, that the budget doesn’t contain everything the president wants is not a poison pill; things get passed separately in Congress all the time.
The posture of the House boils down to this: Mr. President, we control the House, and if you want money for Obamacare, you will need to negotiate that separately from the rest of the budget. If you threaten to shut down the rest of the government unless we give you everything you want on Obamacare, as if the House were controlled by Democrats, then you are the one who is shutting down the government.
In that sense, the position of the GOP House and the president is the reverse of what it was in 1995–96. Obama is threatening to shut down the government unless the House swallows a poison pill. It is entirely reasonable for the House to refuse.
The House is clearly in a position to force major changes in the way Obamacare is funded and, in particular, to impose a hard cap on total Obamacare spending. If the president wants money for Obamacare, he had better start negotiating with the House. Unlike the 1990s, now the president refuses to negotiate over the federal budget unless the House behaves as if it were controlled by his party. It’s not. Elections have consequences.
Mario Loyola is chief counsel to the Texas Public Policy Foundation.