House GOP drops ObamaCare's medical-device tax from new bill, final cave looming

The most pitiful part of what’s happening right now isn’t the cave itself, which was predictable since day one of the quixotic “defund” effort, but the fact that they’re going to drag it out another day or two to the bitter end purely for theatrical purposes. There’s a 99 percent chance that Reid will reject whatever emerges tonight from the House, leaving Boehner to float a clean debt-ceiling hike tomorrow and let Pelosi and the Democrats bail him out, but in order to marginally reduce the upset among grassroots conservatives, he’s going to push this to the last possible moment. That means passing — hopefully — one more House bill to show that he really did try to get something in return for raising the debt limit, even though what he and House Republicans are now asking for barely qualifies as “something.”

Now that the medical-device tax is out, the already weak House bill has even fewer ObamaCare-related demands in it than it did this morning. And the punchline is, it’s been pulled not as a concession to Obama but because House conservatives regard it as a giveaway to business lobbyists. As James Antle put it, “So the only easily gettable Obamacare concession is out because Rs can’t sell it as Obamacare concession.”

Conservatives complained today that delaying the [medical-device] tax would be “crony capitalism” and they can’t sell it to the Republican base as a viable Republican win.

But that swift change hasn’t stalled the GOP’s push for a Tuesday vote. “The leaders are giving us one more chance to get something passed out of the House before the Senate does its thing,” says a veteran House Republican. “I think we’ll get it through, at least that’s my sense of things now. We want to do something that marks our position, so we don’t end up swallowing whatever terrible bait the Senate casts our way. Now, I know, and the majority of us know, that this is futile. But believe me, even getting to 218 on this plan will be an achievement.”…

House insiders say Boehner’s fear is that conservative activists and powerful conservative groups start to align against the bill and rattle its fragile coalition. If that happens, and the bill’s support falls apart, a simple, six-week debt-ceiling extension is still in the leadership’s back pocket, but there’s no plan to bring that up anytime soon. More likely, should things fizzle on the whip front, is that another conference meeting is called and the House GOP “gets real,” as one Boehner ally puts it, about “what’s possible within divided government, and whether Republicans are willing to back anything at all.”

Translation: The leadership’s going to make one last stand tonight to show conservative voters that they really fought on this, even though what they’re now fighting for is worthless to everyone, and then inform House conservatives tomorrow that they have no choice but to pass some sort of clean debt-ceiling hike with Democratic help. That’s because “what’s possible within divided government” was painfully apparent two weeks ago, but if Boehner had caved then instead of now, he would have been accused of not “trying.” So he went through the motions of trying, up to and including a shutdown, and now it’s time to do the responsible thing and not risk a new recession with a technical default. Meanwhile, the Senate isn’t doing anything right now except waiting to see if Boehner can get anything passed through the House with Republican votes. If he can’t, then Reid will might well end up demanding that even the token concessions to the GOP in his bill with McConnell be dropped. After all, it’ll be Democrats who are now the main actors in passing something in the lower chamber, not Republicans.

Update: Look it at this way: Repealing the medical-device tax was always going to be a lame “concession.” Why bother?

Update: Moderate GOPer Devin Nunes tells CNN there’s a new House Republican bill in the works — an almost clean debt-ceiling hike until early February and a bill to fund the government until December 15, setting up an exciting second shutdown just before Christmas. (In theory. In practice, Boehner won’t want to re-live this nightmare.) I say “almost clean” because the one concession Nunes mentioned for raising the ceiling is passing the Vitter amendment denying subsidies to Congress and staff. Reid won’t like that, but whether he’s prepared to force a default over making sure his aides get taxpayer money for their health care is a separate question.

Nunes, by the way, may have passed Peter King today for the title of leader of RINO America:

Bash brought up comments Nunes made the day before the shutdown, calling his Republican colleagues gung-ho on Obamacare “lemmings with suicide vests.” Nunes told Bash he doesn’t consider these people conservative because “to be a conservative you have to know how to count” and they can’t take on this “lunacy” because “you have to be here to actually conserve something” in the future.

Update: Yep, the big cave comes tomorrow.

The Vitter thing is just a tiny fig leaf to placate populists. They’re going to stick it to Congress (or, more specifically, congressional staffers) in lieu of achieving any concessions on ObamaCare.


Update from Duane Patterson: The big question, with the big cave coming by 9:30pm Eastern, is why the House is setting itself up to cave three times in four months? If the decision has been made to offer the clean C.R. and clean debt ceiling hike, why not pass one that gets through 2014 so that at least the sequester cuts are locked in? Right now, the C.R. would be extended only to December 15th, leaving a month before the spending levels are locked in and implemented for next year. Harry Reid has already signaled that the only clean C.R. he’d accept would be before January 15th, because he believes he can make the Republicans cave on the sequester cuts, too.  Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell also is believed to have wanted to extend the C.R. out a year.  So what happened?

There are several House Republicans who are values or religious liberty Congressmen, who are appalled that beginning on January 1st, the Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups are going to essentially have to shut down because of Obamacare’s requirement that they provide insurance that includes abortifacients, birth control and other abortion coverage. They will  simply shutter rather than comply, and so this bloc has successfully pitched the idea of a December 15th C.R., hoping, literally praying, that Obama will see the error of his ways and negotiate by then.

Here’s the problem with that. Let’s say the President hardens his heart and says no. This same voting bloc, along with all of the other members of the House, have no stomach to shut the government down again a week before Christmas, so they will have to cave then, too.

Then you have the debt ceiling coming back around in February, which makes one wonder what leverage the Republicans will have then that they don’t have now. So in short, we’re setting ourselves up to cave three times for the price of one.

The only thumb in the eye, and it’s quite simply just that, is the Vitter Amendment, something Team Reid hates with a passion. The House leadership has included it into their ‘final offer’ as a one finger salute to the Senate Majority Leader, and there is a rumor going around that after the vote tonight, Boehner is sending the House home, thinking they can jam the Senate. But since I’m here updating Allah’s post, I might as well channel Allah and ponder what the headlines will be once the House does pass this and fly home, and Reid simply takes the Vitter Amendment out and passes the clean C.R. and debt ceiling again, and sends it to a vacant House as the debt ceiling clock hits Doomsday O’Clock?

I’m sure there is good news in here somewhere. It just might take an awfully long time to find it.


Update From Duane Patterson: And just as quickly as I wrote this above, the deal is off. The House GOP whipped their members earlier in the afternoon, saying if any of you have a problem with this deal, let us know now. Apparently, enough of them did, because as of 5:50pm Eastern, the House Rules Committee has cancelled the consideration of the package for tonight and no votes are scheduled. They don’t have the votes, and we’re right back to square one.

Almost simultaneously, the White House signaled the President would veto any language that included the Vitter amendment, which would make Congressional and Administration staffers abide by Obamacare just the same as you and I do. I’m a little torn here. Part of me is glad we’re not going along with this deal tonight, for the reasons I stated above. But part of me would love to have the opportunity to make the case that Obama indicated that Harry Reid’s and his own staffers’ exemption from the law is worth more than the country’s creditworthiness. That would have been fun. Alas.

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David Strom 3:21 PM on March 24, 2023