We will not have a repeat of the 2013 government shutdown, thanks to legislation passed this week by both the House and Senate that will give Congress a couple more months to work out a long-term budget agreement. On Wednesday, the Senate voted 78-20 and the House voted 277-151 to pass a continuing resolution that will keep the federal government funded through December 11. President Obama signed the CR into law later that evening, avoiding another shutdown with just hours to spare. Funding levels will remain consistent with the 2015 funding levels while Congress has about 10 weeks to come up with a long-term deal, in addition to addressing increasing the debt ceiling and approving a long-term highway bill, which will crowd the legislative calendar for the remainder of the year.
While Congress was debating the short-term CR deal this week, several House committees were also deliberating a reconciliation package that would repeal significant portions of the ACA, including the individual and employer mandates, the Cadillac/excise tax, the medical device tax, auto-enrollment and the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). Reconciliation is a process that allows the Senate, which ordinarily requires a super majority of 60 votes for passage of legislation, to instead only need a simple majority of 51 votes and avoid a filibuster. With Republicans once again in control of the Senate, this legislative maneuver has been a high priority for many within the party to attempt to dismantle parts of the ACA. The law was ultimately passed in 2010 using the reconciliation process, as Democrats were one vote short of the 60-vote super majority they would have needed to pass it under regular order.
On Tuesday, the House Ways & Means Committee voted to pass the reconciliation package along party lines (with a few Democratic crossover votes on IPAB), which was quickly followed by the House Energy and Commerce and the Education and Workforce committees on Wednesday. The House Budget committee is expected to take up the combined package next week. The reconciliation package also included language that would defund Planned Parenthood for a year, a compromise worked out as a way to pass the defunding while avoiding a government shutdown by attaching it to a must-pass CR this week. The Senate is not expected to work on its own reconciliation language, but will instead work with the House-negotiated package. This will mean that there will be less of a need for conference committees to work out differences and can help to quickly advance the bill to the president’s desk.
All of this comes with the caveat that the White House will not approve any legislative measures that will undermine the president’s signature legislative accomplishment. Republicans also do not have a two-thirds majority in either chamber to override an administrative veto and the overall price tag, estimated at $353 billion for a full repeal of the law, to undermine any attempt to enact a repeal of the ACA. However, the reconciliation approach allows Republicans the ability to send a repeal bill to the White House, which will make it clear to voters the only reason why the law hasn’t been repealed is because a Democrat occupies the White House, and will hope to use that as a major campaign element for the 2016 elections. Until the 2014 elections, Republicans did not have the votes in the Senate to be able to pass a reconciliation bill and send it to the president.