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[POSTED: 10/15, 11:45 AM]
[UPDATE: 10/15, 4:00 PM -- News reports suggest House Republican leaders are taking the "deal" to the House floor for a vote this evening, but are changing some of the details. Specifically, the leaders have decided to reopen the government until December 15th instead of January 15th; drop the medical device tax delay; drop the income verification provision; and apply ObamaCare to congressional staff. It's unclear at presstime whether the bill has sufficient support to pass.]
[UPDATE: 10/15, 7:45 PM -- House Speaker Boehner pulled the bill from consideration this afternoon, after House conservatives rebelled against it. FreedomWorks had issued a Key Vote NO letter on the plan, as had other groups. President Obama and Senate Harry Reid also signalled opposition, driving House Democrats away and proving once again that the hard Left likes to bargain hard, even on the brink of alleged "default."]
[UPDATE: 10/16, 12:00 PM -- Reports this morning say Speaker Boehner will call a vote today on a legislative package negotiated overnight by Senators Reid and McConnell. The new package is stripped down to almost nothing. It will reopen the government until mid-January; extend the debt limit till early February; and symbolically tighten income fraud verification in the exchanges. Plus, the separate budget conference committee would have to report a budget plan by December 13th -- a plan very likely to bust the sequester spending caps and increase the size of government. That's it. Like yesterday's failed version, the bill would do nothing to give the American people relief from ObamaCare. Presumably the bill will pass with most Democrats voting in favor, which would enable most Republicans to vote against. We have not yet seen legislative text, but based on the reports FreedomWorks would key-vote "NO."]
Bipartisan congressional leaders are conspiring once again to stiff-arm the American people and preserve ObamaCare, even as that monstrously unfair, unaffordable, and unnecessary scheme shows signs of complete unworkability.
Late yesterday, Senators Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) reportedly struck a bipartisan agreement to raise the debt limit and reopen the government, without any conditions and without relieving the American people from ObamaCare.
This morning, House leaders came out with a slightly different version of the same "deal."
In this post, I will try to summarize and critique each of the various elements in play.
The short version: It's a non-starter for grassroots America.
NOTE: The details below describe proposals by the two chambers' respective leaders. They do not necessarily reflect the views of individual members of either chamber. Also, some details are unclear at presstime and are subject to revision as new information comes out.
Senate: Immediately reopen the government and fund it at fiscal year 2013 levels until January 15, 2014.
FreedomWorks: There is no need to reopen the government all at once. Instead, the House should continue to hold out for a halt to ObamaCare. To reduce the political pressure on itself, the House can continue its smart policy of passing targeted "mini-CRs" for specific, high-profile agencies or programs (such as NIH cancer clinical trials).
Senate: Extend the debt limit until February 7.
House: Same. But also: Remove the President's flexibility to evade the debt limit through so-called "extraordinary measures" (e.g., borrowing temporarily from certain federal trust funds).
FreedomWorks: As for raising the debt limit, ordinarily, we'd say don't do it at all, or least not without significant offsetting spending cuts. But the current government shutdown is admittedly not an ordinary situation. The standoff began with a grassroots effort to halt ObamaCare, and that fight should remain front and center. Therefore, while parts of the government remain shuttered, the debt limit should be lifted temporarily, without strings or conditions, in order to take the "default" canard off the table and restore the House's leverage over spending and ObamaCare. P.S. Eliminating "extraordinary measures" is a good idea on its own merits, because it gives Congress greater power over borrowing, as the Founders intended; but the reform is not urgently needed in the current situation.
Health Insurer Reinsurance Fee
Senate: Eliminate the health insurer reinsurance fee.
House: No provision.
FreedomWorks: A sop to the labor unions. Abolishing this tax-like fee is fine, but only if we also abolish the $10 billion subsidy to the health insurance industry that it funds.
Income Fraud Prevention for Exchange Subsidies
Senate: No provision.
House: Require that the HHS Secretary certify that the health care exchanges are secure from income fraud.
FreedomWorks: Fig leaf. Merely restates current law. HHS can't even manage to process our passwords; how are we supposed to trust them to prevent people from lying about their income to qualify for taxpayer subsidies -- especially after President Obama publicly announced that he would not bother to verify applicants' income claims?
Medical Device Tax
Senate: No provision. (Democrats, who control the Senate, are said to strongly oppose repeal or delay of this 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices.)
House: Two-year delay of the medical device tax.
FreedomWorks: The House provision is a sop to the medical device industry, which notably employs a former senior advisor to Speaker Boehner. We say: Not just no, but hell no! No more relief for corporations or unions until the American people get relief from this terrible law! Every corporate interest and powerful labor union in America has managed to finagle an exemption from ObamaCare -- even Congress! Where's our exemption?
Apply ObamaCare to Political Leaders
Senate: No provision.
House: Apply ObamaCare to Members of Congress, the President, the Vice President, and members of the President’s Cabinet (but note: not to their staffs).
FreedomWorks: This provision, while fully justified (and we would also apply it to congressional staff), is no substitute for relieving the American people from ObamaCare
Bicameral Budget Committee
Senate: Agree to negotiate with the other chamber on possible future spending and tax increases in the context of a House-Senate budget conference committee, which has been stalled since May. Also discuss cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
FreedomWorks: Negotiating a budget is a good thing. But increasing spending and taxes is not. Additionally, linking budget talks to the CR/ObamaCare fight is a strategic mistake. (Sadly, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), who claims to be an opponent of ObamaCare, was the leading force behind forging this misguided linkage, which undermines the efforts of grassroots America to halt the government takeover of their health care.)
Senate: Fully fund ObamaCare. Don't delay any part of ObamaCare. Provide no relief to the American people from ObamaCare.
FreedomWorks: Has the disconnect between America and Washington ever been wider?
The ball is in the House's court. Here's what it should do:
Conclusion: At Least Delay the Mandate
At a minimum, the House should hold out for a delay of the unfair and deeply unpopular individual mandate. This mandate, effectively a punitive tax on the poor, represents one of of the most massive giveaways to corporate America in U.S. history, forcibly creating a gigantic captive market for the health insurance industry. It is also the law's linchpin.
Postponing it for a year would put a question mark over the entire scheme's future and effectively make ObamaCare the focus of the 2014 elections.
By the way, why do we even need a mandate? If ObamaCare is so wonderful, why can't it be voluntary? What's wrong with letting people opt out?