The GOP Probably Isn’t Going to Shut Down the Government to Save Obamacare

Paul Ryan and House Republicans have no particular reason to honor the Obamacare stabilization deal Mitch McConnell cut with Susan Collins to secure her vote for the GOP tax bill. Photo: Chip Somodevilla; Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At the beginning of the week, House Republicans were gung-ho about a strategy of “jamming” the Senate with a government funding bill that reflected such conservative priorities as a big boost in defense spending and not much of anything else, then adjourning and leaving the Senate — and Democrats — a choice of going along or letting the government shut down.

Now it’s beginning to look like the House will back off on its demand for a yearlong boost in defense spending that is not reflected in similar spending levels for non-defense appropriations, eliminating the most prominent reason for a shutdown, according to Politico:

Gone is the plan for a bill funding the Pentagon for the rest of the fiscal year and other government agencies until mid-January. Now House Republicans will extend funding only until Jan. 19 for the whole government, hoping the new strategy will produce enough support to stave off a funding lapse come midnight Friday.

That’s not to say there are not big unresolved issues remaining. For one thing, House conservatives (at least those who are not from Texas or other hard-hit states) are restive about what they consider excessive funding for disaster recovery. It’s possible the $81 billion being planned for that account could be split off into a separate bill. Other sources of controversy include the House’s demand for spending cuts to pay for renewed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and a wrangle over reauthorization of the government’s warrantless surveillance program (which has created an alliance of conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats wanting more restricted powers). That, too, could be spun off into a separate measure to avoid the risk of a shutdown.

But the noisiest dispute on the stopgap funding bill involves the promise Mitch McConnell made to Susan Collins to include two Obamacare stabilization measures, thus securing her potentially crucial vote for the GOP tax bill. House Republicans never liked the idea of “propping up Obamacare” to begin with, and have been openly dismissive of McConnell’s pledges, to which they were never a party. And now the powerful anti-abortion lobby has thrown even more sand into the works of the Collins deal, demanding that any Obamacare funding measure include a ban on federally supported purchases of insurance that includes abortion coverage. That kind of language would be unacceptable to most Senate Democrats, and perhaps to Susan Collins as well.

The big question is this: Now that the tax bill has safely passed, exactly how much effort is Mitch McConnell going to make to keep his promises to Collins? Will he shut down the government over it? Probably not. Will he risk alienating the anti-abortion lobby? Probably not.

We can expect some Kabuki theater to continue in the hours just ahead, though; it now looks like the House vote on a stopgap spending bill will be on Thursday, and there’s still a good chance the lower chamber will adjourn and “jam the Senate,” though not with the kind of bill Senate Republicans are likely to oppose. Indeed, the need to keep the government open may produce just the excuse Mitch McConnell needs to go to Susan Collins and say: “I tried, but you know those House lunatics.”

The GOP Isn’t Going to Shut Down the Gov’t to Save Obamacare