Shutdown watch: Meet the new bill

It took until after midnight, but the House finally passed the next version of the short term funding bill to keep the government open past Tuesday on a 231-192 vote. Of minor interest is the fact that, while the numbers looked similar, two Republicans and two Democrats broke ranks and voted on the other side. On the GOP side, both of the Nay votes came from my neck of the woods in upstate New York, with Chris Gibson and Richard Hanna voting no. For the Democrats, Mike McInytre of North Carolina and Jim Matheson of Utah voted yes.

The bill delays Obamacare and also includes the expected repeal of the medical device tax.

Boehner didn’t speak on the House floor during the debate before the amendments passed.

“The House has again passed a plan that reflects the American people’s desire to keep the government running and stop the president’s health care law,” Boehner said in a post-vote statement. Repealing the medical device tax will save jobs and delaying the president’s health care law for all Americans is only fair given the exemptions the White House has granted to big businesses and insurance companies.”

He added: “Now that the House has again acted, it’s up to the Senate to pass this bill without delay to stop a government shutdown.”

A new wrinkle was added into the mix by Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, when the Conscience Clause for covered contraception costs was added back into the legislation.

The so-called “conscience clause” would allow employers and insurers to opt out of preventative care for women which they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds. That prominently includes birth control, which most insurers are required to provide for free under current Obamacare rules.

With this move, House Republican leaders would give any employer or group health plan the ability to opt out of contraception coverage for the next year. That time frame syncs up with the larger measure in which this is included: a one-year delay of Obamacare provisions not yet in effect.

“This is a big deal for the congressman,” Huelskamp’s spokesman, Paul Nelson, told CNN. “He has been pushing for (the conscience clause) since he entered Congress.”

Doug Mataconis described the addition of the conscience clause as, “playing like you have a Royal Flush when you’re really only holding a pair of deuces“, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple. In terms of actually moving to avoid a shutdown, this looks like a fairly obvious admission that somebody is going to have to turn out the lights tomorrow night. It’s not as if Harry Reid is going to be saying, “Well, we weren’t going to agree to any changes to Obamacare, but if you want to bring contraception into the mix, let’s make a deal!” Yes, the Speaker could still take the cut and run option at the last minute with all the Democrats and some moderate Republicans, but would he?

The entire question from the beginning was whether or not the GOP would cave at the 11th hour, either giving in entirely to a “clean” CR with no riders, or finding some minor, face saving provision they could sell to the Democrats which could make it look like they got something before signing off on the arrangement. (The other theoretical possibility was that the Democrats might have offered some significant change to Obamacare just to get things done, but that’s been pretty much a pipe dream since day one.) But it’s starting to feel as if Boehner has realized that a significant segment of his caucus – as well as conservatives around the country in general – are on the edge of open revolt. With that in mind, he may be ready to simply pick this as the hill the GOP will die on (in this particular battle) and prove that the party is willing to fight for what it believes in.

But the looming cloud on the horizon comes with the question of … where does it end? Because even if the government essentially shuts down Monday night, it will end. Something will have to give, otherwise the political damage and public outcry will start building up pretty fast. A shutdown of a few days, as Ed has noted before, probably wouldn’t have much – if any – long term negative effect and might, in fact, bolster the spirits of the conservative base. But if this turns into weeks or months (not that months is even possible) it’s going to be ugly. And no matter how any of the spin doctors portray it, we already know who is going to get the blame.

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