Congress needs to pass a new funding bill by Friday’s end, or else the government will shut down. President Trump made that task significantly harder last week, when he rejected a bipartisan proposal to grant legal status to DACA recipients. With 700,000 Dreamers just weeks away from losing the right to live in the country they call home, Democrats are under immense pressure to vote against any spending bill that fails to address their plight.
If Paul Ryan’s caucus were united in support of keeping the government open, this wouldn’t be a problem in the House. But the Freedom Caucus is anxious to take food and medical assistance from poor people, while the House’s defense hawks believe that the Pentagon’s paltry $600 billion budget must be increased immediately lest America forfeit its “military readiness.” And both contingents refuse to accept that the filibuster exists, and thus, that any spending bill will need to be amenable to at least nine Democrats in the upper chamber.
All this makes Ryan’s path to 218 votes on a temporary-funding bill unclear. But the Speaker has a plan, according to Politico. Ryan hopes to win over a critical mass of Democrats by restoring funding for children’s health care, while winning over conservatives with tax cuts for medical devices:
Leaders will pitch a delay of the medical device tax, a loathed Obamacare levy on equipment such as defibrillators and surgical tools. The tax has been delayed for two years but went back into effect on Jan. 1. They’ll also discuss again delaying the law’s health insurance tax, which is now going into effect after a one-year delay.
A third tax potentially in the cross-hairs: the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health insurance plans favored by labor unions.
… Facing GOP resistance, Republican leaders are also expected to also discuss another option: adding six years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program designed to draw Democratic votes.
CHIP is a bipartisan program that provides health insurance to 9 million children (whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but do not receive insurance through their employers). Republicans allowed funding for the program to expire last year, while they were frantically trying to repeal Obamacare, and pass unpopular, deficit-financed tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Subsequently, they refused to renew CHIP, unless it was funded dollar for dollar with cuts to health care for low-income adults. Now, for complicated reasons related to the rising costs of Obamacare, it may actually save the government money to extend CHIP. So Ryan’s offer to Democrats boils down to: I will agree to stop needlessly withholding health insurance from vulnerable children out of spite, if you help me (needlessly) keep 700,000 Dreamers in fear for another few weeks.
Given the GOP’s ruthlessness — and the grave harm that’s already being done to CHIP — this may be an offer many Democrats can’t refuse. Whether conservatives will be satisfied with delaying Obamacare taxes that Obama himself perpetually agreed to delay remains unclear. That said, it seems doubtful that there are any Democratic senators who would vote for spending bill that didn’t address DACA, but would wouldn’t vote for one that delayed the medical-device tax.
If Ryan were willing to settle for a very temporary spending bill — one that allowed Democrats to keep up the pressure on DACA, while pocketing a victory on CHIP — he could probably keep the government open on the strength of Democratic and moderate Republican support. But then, there are a lot of things Ryan could do if he were willing to spurn the right flank of his caucus — like, for example, pass a Dream Act.