A Defund ObamaCare FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about Defunding ObamaCare

With limited-government champions like Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas and Mark Meadows of North Carolina leading a charge to defund ObamaCare via the Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bill, a lot of misleading information has been floating around about their effort.  Both Democrats who still inexplicably support the law and Republicans who are afraid to take a stand against it have manufactured any number of talking points to excuse their unwillingness to stand against the faltering, unpopular Washington health care takeover.

The following “Frequently Asked Questions” list aims to dispel as many of the myths about defunding ObamaCare as possible.

Q: My Congressman says he cosponsored the defunding bill, why should he also sign the Lee/Meadows letter (which commits the signer not to vote for any bill that funds ObamaCare)?”

A: Cosponsoring a bill that has no guarantee of ever receiving a vote isn’t sufficient. We must achieve our goal on a must-pass bill. That’s why Members of Congress need to insist on defunding via the Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bill (also referred to as the Continuing Resolution or CR), which must be passed before October 1st in order for a significant portion of federal programs and agencies to continue to be funded. And that’s why we need them to sign the letter. Only by going on record and signing the letter can they signal that they are serious about stopping the Washington health care takeover. Note: The goal of the letter campaign is not to “shut down the government,” as many ObamaCare supporters (and some fairweather opponents) claim. The goal is to use Congress’s power of the purse to shut down ObamaCare — and only ObamaCare.

A “government shutdown” is in reality a “slowdown in nonessential government services.” Services deemed essential, or which have separately appropriated funds available to support them, continue. That’s why a temporary budget lapse is typically described as a “partial government shutdown.” It’s not the end of the world.

Q: Since much of ObamaCare’s funding is on auto-pilot, will defunding it actually stop it from taking effect?

A: As FreedomWorks has explained at length elsewhere, the Karl Rove / Mitch McConnell / Tom Coburn argument that “A shutdown won’t actually stop ObamaCare” is incorrect and misleading. While much of ObamaCare is indeed “permanent law,” i.e., on auto-pilot, and it’s true that even after the defunding language actually becomes law and takes effect ObamaCare itself will remain on the books, the Congressional Research Service has confirmed that federal agencies like HHS and the IRS still require annually appropriated funds to be able to spend “permanent law” funds; therefore ObamaCare implementation would in fact halt during a budgetary impasse, and would of course be halted permanently once the defunding language is in effect. Incidentally, explicitly defunding all of ObamaCare through a new provision of permanent law would also stop the 41 new ObamaCare taxes from being collected, including those that have already taken effect.

To be specific, defunders are insisting the CR include the language from the Cruz bill (S.1292) and its House companion, the Graves bill (H.R.2682), which ould bring ObamaCare implementation and enforcement to a complete and permanent halt. Incidentally, ObamaCare’s main auto-pilot spending — the generous exchange premium subsidies and massive Medicaid expansion funding — aren’t scheduled to begin until January 1, 2014. The CR fight will take place prior to that time, in September and October of 2013. So a budget standoff can result in defunding.

Q: Since there aren’t enough votes to repeal ObamaCare, what makes you think we can find the votes to defund or delay?

A: It’s true that Democrats have been unwilling to vote for repeal. But in July, 22 House Democrats crossed party lines to support a one-year delay of the employer and individual mandates, linchpins of the law, despite frantic pressure from their party leaders to vote “no.” This shows health care freedom advocates can attract Democratic votes with the right message. Recent polling suggests a majority of Americans, regardless of party, support a delay of ObamaCare, either because they oppose it, or because they support it but want to “fix” it in some form or fashion, especially by “eliminating the worst parts.” Delay-in-order-to-fix is thus the policy and political sweet spot. But the only way to achieve delay is to maximize leverage via a united push, and the best “opening bid” is to insist on complete defunding, fold our arms, smile, and wait for a serious counter-offer.

Q: Why are you insisting upon “defund” even though it’s unpopular?

A: It’s true that “delay” polls better than “defund.” But it’s not true that “defund” is “unpopular.” The contention that it is, is based on misleading poll wording. For example, a poll by Karl Rove’s group tries to stack the deck by making it sound like “defund” means stopping “health care reform”! A more accurate poll question in a recent Basswood poll commissioned by Heritage Action for America finds the idea of defunding Obamacare is broadly supported. Independents in the survey strongly supported defunding Obamacare by a margin of 57 percent to 34 percent. Only 20 percent of those polled supported going forward with Obamacare unchanged.

Q: Doesn’t pushing for defund make it harder to achieve a delay?

A: On the contrary, as we’ve already explained, pushing for defunding makes it more likely we will achieve a delay. But Republicans and other ObamaCare opponents must unite for this strategy to work. If you start a negotiation with the bare minimum that you’re willing to accept (delay), you will inevitably fail to receive even that. Any Member of Congress who votes to fund ObamaCare is voting, in effect, against a delay; he or she is voting to have the Washington takeover take full effect on January 1st. If they fund it, they’re for it.

Q: Aren’t piecemeal attacks more likely to work than a frontal assault?

A: Piecemeal attacks — such as repealing the IPAB (“death panels”), the medical device tax, or even the massive Medicaid expansion – are attractive but ultimately a time-wasting distraction from the much more urgent problem of stopping the government takeover of our health care. Even Democrats have already been willing to strip away several portions of the law (1099 reporting, the CLASS Act), but none of these small victories matter if the mandates and subsidies at the heart of ObamaCare are allowed to kick in. Of all of ObamaCare’s many provisions, the most important one to stop — and the scheme’s greatest weakness — is the individual mandate. Happily, it’s also the law’s most unpopular feature, opposed by the overwhelming majority of Americans. Even Democrats oppose the individual mandate, two to one.

Q: Can an appropriations bill actually be used to block mandatory (auto-pilot) spending?

A: Sure it can. Congress does it all the time. When Congress alters the spending in an auto-pilot program such as food stamps or Medicare, it is scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) as “changes in mandatory program spending (“CHiMPS” in Beltway budget jargon). 

Another example: The Hyde Amendment. That’s the provision of federal appropriations law, first enacted back in the mid-1970s and renewed every year since, that bars Medicaid and other federal health-care programs from paying for elective abortions. The amendment applies to both “discretionary” (annually appropriated) and “mandatory” (auto-pilot) spending.

So if your Congressman tries to argue that “We can’t stop mandatory spending on an appropriation,” reply with three words: “The Hyde Amendment.” 

Q: Why are Republicans so eager to shut down the government?

A: No one is calling for a government shutdown. There is no need for a shutdown. Instead, we are saying Congress should pass a bill that funds every bit of the government except for the implementation and enforcement of ObamaCare. If a “government shutdown” does occur, it will be because ObamaCare supporters insist on funding the Washington health care takeover, despite the law’s lack of public support. A bill that funds everything except ObamaCare is not a “bill that would shut down the government.” Rather, it’s a bill that would shut down ObamaCare — and only ObamaCare.

Q: But regardless of who’s doing the “shutting down”, won’t it hurt…

…seniors?  No. Social Security and Medicare payments are so-called “mandatory” (auto-pilot) spending, not subject to annual appropriations. The checks keep flowing automatically, whether or not there is a budgetary standoff involving other parts of the government. Only if a budget standoff were to last a long time, stretching into months, could the timeliness of payments to seniors possibly be impinged, due to a lack of so-called “discretionary” (annually appropriated) funds (i.e., funds needed to pay the government employees and contractors who actually administer the auto-pilot programs). Historically, only the three-week shutdown in 1996 has lasted more than three days. Customary government practice, based on longstanding legal opinions, has been to keep “essential” personnel (including Social Security and Medicare employees) at work, fulfilling their assigned duties, pending a resolution of a temporary budgetary lapse.

…the poor? No. Although the Medicaid program and virtually all other federal welfare programs are annually appropriated, and would therefore be suspended during a budget standoff, payments under such programs go to state governments rather than to individuals; so individuals would probably not notice any change during a standoff. Also, some programs, like Medicaid, have extra financial flexibility because they enjoy special, “indefinite appropriations,” basically special “pots of cash” they can use to tide themselves over during an appropriation lapse.

…veterans?  No. Any government shutdown would be merely partial, more accurately described as a “slowdown” in nonessential services, since by law all services and personnel deemed “essential” by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) must continue operations during a temporary “shutdown,” as FreedomWorks has reported elsewhere. As the House Armed Services Committee explains: “[In any shutdown plan] disabled veterans in receipt of disability compensation or pension checks should continue to receive those payments,” as will “survivors currently in receipt of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.”

…the military?  This is one of the more frequent claims made by anti-defunding Republicans in Congress to their constituents, and it’s simply untrue, as FreedomWorks has explained elsewhere. As congressional experts affirm, “[During a shutdown,] the Secretary of Defense would ensure mission accomplishment of critical activities that are needed to prosecute the war in Afghanistan, to complete the military mission in Iraq, and to ensure safety of human life and protection of property including operations for the security of our nation,” and “robust support for those engaged in war would continue (ammunition, vests, equipment…etc.).” 

The first item on OMB’s list of “essential” functions that continue during a shutdown is anything to: “provide for the national security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life.” Neither would military personnel be furloughed. As the House Armed Services Committee explains: “In any shutdown plan, all military personnel would be deemed exempt and would not be subject to furlough.” 

Would military pay continue? Yes, according to MilitaryAdvantage.com: “if the past is any indication, active duty servicemembers are not likely to miss any paychecks.” While it is possible that payments to active military personnel may be delayed, they will continue to accrue their full pay, and it will be paid in full as soon as an appropriation bill is enacted for the Department of Defense. Additionally, according to the same publication, Congress can easily ensure the continuity of military pay in any budget standoff by simply passing a standalone appropriation for it: ”Military pay was specifically exempted from the ten shutdowns that occurred between 1980 and 1996.” How long could military personnel go without seeing their paycheck? It’s unlikely to be very long. Historically, only the three-week shutdown in 1996 has lasted more than three days.

…law enforcement? The FBI and any other federal law enforcement are specifically exempted from a shutdown by OMB, as mentioned above.

Q: Didn’t the last government shutdown badly hurt Republicans?

A: The story that Republicans were hurt politically by the 1995-96 government shutdowns is a myth. Republicans weathered the 1996 and 1998 elections politically without significant losses, and were in fact able to force President Clinton to agree to welfare reform in 1996 (after the shutdowns) and to significant spending reforms in 1997 (after his reelection). Additionally, polling shows the blame for a potential government shutdown would actually fall, not just on Republicans, but rather would be spread around — among Republicans, Democrats, and President Obama. According to an August 2013 poll by Basswood Research, which talked to likely voters in 10 Republican-leaning congressional districts, in a shutdown scenario 28 percent of Americans would blame the GOP, 22 percent would blame Obama, 19 percent would blame congressional Democrats, 5 percent would blame the tea party, and 17 percent would spread the blame around. About 60 percent said they would support a “slowdown” in “nonessential” services (which is effectively what a partial government shutdown is).

Q: Wouldn’t an unpopular government shutdown make it harder to stop ObamaCare in the long run?

A: This argument assumes that the public will react against a budget showdown/slowdown, and thus set back efforts to stop ObamaCare. But as we’ve already explained, such an outcome is unlikely. ObamaCare has never been supported by a majority of the public, and the number of who oppose it has been growing measurably as we near the January 1, 2014, “full launch” date. As we’ve noted above, the vast majority of Americans strongly oppose the individual mandate at the heart of ObamaCare.

Q: Why have this fight? ObamaCare will collapse on its own anyway.

A: It’s true that ObamaCare’s math doesn’t work, and it will eventually collapse. But that could take years, depending on several factors, including how many people sign up for subsidized health insurance through the government exchanges and whether President Obama can continue to stave off collapse by unilateral actions (such as his unilateral suspension of the employer mandate and of the requirement that people’s claimed income be c hecked to prevent subsidy fraud in the exchanges). Additionally, it is very hard to stop an entitlement funding stream once the subsidies start flowing to recipients. We have until January 1, 2014, to secure a delay of ObamaCare’s exchange subsidies, Medicaid expansion, and other funding.

And remember: Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid has brazenly admitted that ObamaCare is really just a step toward the Democrats’ ultimate goal: a single-payer, completely government-run system. That admission rips the ideological mask off of ObamaCare and underscores why stopping it now is imperative.

Q: If we defund or delay all of ObamaCare, what about the “good parts”?

A: This argument — the Democrats’ strongest talking point — is true, as far as it goes. The item that is most frequently cited is the mandate that dependent children under the age of 26 must be allowed under their parents’ health care plan.  This mandate in particular is popular even among some Republicans. But it has major problems, namely, it drives up health care premiums for ALL of us by $100 to $400 a year. More important, the deeper problem of overpriced health care for young adults can better be achieved separately, via market-oriented, patient-centered reforms. 

The same goes for the requirement that insurance companies cannot deny coverage to those individuals with preexisting medical conditions. Simply forcing people with preexisting conditions to be insured, regardless of cost, just raises costs for everybody, driving people away from insurance — the opposite of the scheme’s claimed goal. By contrast, an approach involving state-based high-risk pools, medical tax deductions, and consumer-driven price transparency can provide quality health care for individuals with preexisting conditions within a free market.

Q: Republicans are spending all their time arguing against ObamaCare. Do they even have any solutions of their own?

A: Yes. Republicans (and other ObamaCare opponents) have a robust set of health care reform principles and proposals, which are designed to lower health care costs by putting patients and doctors in charge of the system. For years, FreedomWorks has consistently and repeatedly urged ObamaCare opponents in Congress to enunciate very clearly what they are “for.” Here is what we are for:

FreedomWorks’s “Health Care Contract with America”

1) Allow everyone to maintain his current health insurance. No exceptions. (And treat everyone the same, including all Members of Congress and government employees.)

2) Allow people to own their own medical insurance and take it with them from job to job.

3) Allow all taxpayers to receive tax deductions for medical expenses, including personal Health Savings Accounts.

4) Allow insurance companies to compete across state lines.

5) Help people with pre-existing medical conditions through significant transitional block grants to states.

6) Provide all citizens advance knowledge of their health care costs (excluding medical emergencies).

7) Provide reasonable maximums for “pain and suffering.”

8) Avert Medicare’s bankruptcy by providing fewer benefits to the wealthy.

9) Allow the elderly and all doctors the choice between private insurance and Medicare.

10) Eliminate first-dollar coverage. Everyone should pay at least something for each medical service.

These principles balance boldness with achievability, injecting much-needed “patient power,” choice, and competition into the system, and do so without “throwing grandma over the cliff” or forcing young people to buy health insurance they don’t want or need. If fully implemented, this plan would lower health care costs and improve access to care (as well as reduce the number of uninsured Americans) by voluntary rather than coercive means.

But to help patients and doctors, we must first stop the Washington takeover, which at a minimum means delaying its core provisions until after the 2014 elections (so voters can weigh in on this momentous issue); which is why all freedom lovers should UNITE to DEFUND it NOW.

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