With the wall-to-wall media coverage of shootings in America this past week, you may have missed that the Senate used the budget reconciliation process to pass a partial “ObamaCare” repeal and to defund Planned Parenthood. This is part of the Kabuki theater that GOP Congressional leaders must engage in to appease the radical extremists who want to shut down the federal government to take the country hostage and to extort ransom from the Democrats and President Obama — “give us everything we want or we will kill the hostage.”
A government shutdown remains not only possible but likely this Friday, December 11, if the GOP Congressional leadership loses control of their Kabuki theater strategy.
Steve Benen reports, Why the latest Obamacare repeal vote was worse than the others :
It’s not exactly a secret that when congressional Republicans vote to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act — as they’ve done dozens upon dozens of times — it’s not because they intend to succeed. On the contrary, they already know these bills are doomed to fail, at least so long as President Obama is in the White House, blocking any GOP effort to take Americans’ health benefits away.
And yet, the Senate Republican majority invested months of effort in yet another “Obamacare” repeal measure, culminating in a close vote Thursday night.
The Senate narrowly passed a bill Thursday that would repeal key pieces of the Affordable Care Act and strip federal funding of Planned Parenthood for one year.
The bill, which only needed 51 votes to pass because it was being considered using a procedure allowing it to bypass typical Senate procedures which require 60 votes to advance a piece of legislation, passed 52-47.
The final roll call is online here. Note that two Senate Republicans — Maine’s Susan Collins and Illinois’ Mark Kirk — broke ranks and opposed the repeal bill. No Democrats voted for it.
The first instinct is always to evaluate legislation on the merits, and in this case, the Republican repeal package is simply indefensible. It would increase the ranks of the uninsured by at 22 million people over the next three years, while killing Medicaid expansion, scrapping subsidies to working families, and even defunding Planned Parenthood for reasons GOP lawmakers still haven’t explained with any coherence.
But in this case, it’s best not to focus too heavily on the policy details because, as Republicans freely admit, this entire legislative endeavor, months in the making, was nothing but political theater — an elaborate sham.
The first part of the charade has to do with preventing a government shutdown. By orchestrating this drama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) believed he can send a repeal bill to the White House, watch it get vetoed, and then pursue a “clean” — or at least, “cleaner” — spending package next week before current federal funding expires, effectively telling his members, “Well, we gave it our best shot.”
The second part of this gambit is giving the party’s rabid base a symbolic victory. Republicans have somehow convinced themselves that right-wing activists will be impressed by Congress going through the motions and forcing the president to veto a dumb repeal bill that has no real-world implications whatsoever.
But it’s the final part the charade that’s the most interesting angle.
This bill was able to pass the Senate thanks to a legislative tactic known as the “budget reconciliation” process, which allows lawmakers to pass budget measures by majority rule – no filibusters allowed. It’s why Democrats weren’t able to block last night’s vote.
The GOP majority knows the president will veto any repeal measure, but this isn’t about now; it’s about 2017, when Republicans expect to see complete, far-right control over the House, Senate, and White House. In other words, last night’s vote was a dry-run – a proof-of-concept dress rehearsal – for when Republicans are really able to start taking families’ health care benefits away.
What they don’t fully seem to appreciate, however, is that the dry-run itself doesn’t make sense: many of the Republicans who went along with the partisan Kabuki did so grudgingly, balking at some key elements of this bill, and making clear they’re not thrilled about voting to push 22 million Americans into the ranks of the uninsured.
Or put another way, if President Obama weren’t in office right now, and President Republican were, this identical bill very likely would have failed. Some GOP senators reluctantly voted for this because they’ve been told all along that no one will actually suffer as a result of the ridiculous theatrics.
The result is a high-profile dress rehearsal in which the cast is told in advance, “Don’t worry, the script will be totally different soon.”
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In the meantime, it’s Democrats who seem pleased to have fodder for some 2016 attack ads. Several vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents – New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, Ohio’s Rob Portman, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, Missouri’s Roy Blunt, North Carolina’s Richard Burr, Arizona’s John McCain, et al – just voted to strip many of their own constituents of their health care benefits, while also going after Planned Parenthood less than a week after the deadly violence in Colorado Springs.
Expect to hear more about this vote next fall.
The $1 trillion spending bill has to be passed by both the House and Senate by December 11 to avoid a possible partial government shutdown. US House Adjourns With No Budget Deal, Threatening Shutdown:
Closed-door negotiations are still going on among Republicans, who are crafting the bill as the majority party. Talks are focused on which so-called policy riders – or special interest measures – will be attached to the spending bill.
During the last budget negotiations in late September, a Republican policy rider defunding the women’s health care and abortion provider Planned Parenthood threatened to trigger a shutdown, which was averted by a temporary measure keeping the government funded only until December 11.
Among the policy additions causing controversy this time are deregulation measures Democrats say would undo provisions to protect the nation’s clean air and water, and measures on Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
President Obama has said he would veto any bill that halts the resettlement of Iraqi and Syrian refugees, saying they are already subject to exhaustive screening procedures and it would send the wrong signal about American values.
At Thursday’s White House briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest said Republicans are risking a government shutdown because of special interest riders that benefit the biggest firms on Wall Street and companies that are the biggest polluters of Americans’ air and water.
Earnest said the president is not going to go along with that and he does not think that Americans will either. He said Republicans are going to have to demonstrate that they will work in a bipartisan way, and if they don’t, he said: “We’re looking at another government shutdown.”
No. 1 Priority
Some House Republicans say their top priority in this current round of budget negotiations is attaching a measure requiring tougher screening of Iraqi and Syrian refugees to the spending bill.
At a conservative forum Wednesday, Republican Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, said: “Our No. 1 priority is the Syrian refugee bill.”
He and other House Freedom Caucus members said the fact that the House passed a bill calling for a pause in the Obama administration’s Syrian Resettlement Program – with 47 Democrats voting for it – gives Republicans a strong starting position in what could turn into another budget showdown.
[More than half of the Democrats who approved temporarily blocking Syrian and Iraqi refugee after the Paris attacks don’t want that language in the omnibus spending package. Many Democrats who voted to suspend Syrian refugee admissions change tack]
The House bill bars refugees from Syria and Iraq from entering the United States unless top administration officials personally certify they pose no security threat, which officials say would effectively bar their entry. The refugee bill passed with a veto-proof majority in the House, but has not been taken up in the Senate.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that the spending bill Republicans sent to Democrats is full of policy riders: “What they sent us back takes your breath away…This is a [Conservative Republican] Tea Party policy wish list.”
U.S. Visa Waiver Program
Pelosi said she and other Democrats do however support a Republican bill that would tighten the visa waiver program which allows some 20 million foreigners from friendly countries to come to the United States each year without a visa.
The Republican bill would deny visa waivers to people who traveled to Iraq and Syria in the last five years, or have dual citizenship with those countries.
It would also require the issue of difficult-to-forge passports with data chips. Republican Majority leader Kevin McCarthy said there will be a vote on the bill next week, but added it is not yet clear whether it will be a stand-alone measure or attached to the spending bill. There also is bipartisan support in the Senate for changes to the visa waiver program.
Unless both the House and Senate pass at least a temporary spending bill [this] week, some government agencies would begin to close after midnight on December 11.
I have little confidence that GOP congressional leaders can get their Kabuki theater bills to the president to be vetoed and veto override votes held this week before Congress has enough time to get serious about crafting a clean spending bill without Tea Party riders that the President can sign.
Too many Tea-Publicans are invested in their government shutdown fantasy of blaming President Obama in this political season. They have no interest in good governance. It is always about providing GOPropaganda grist for the conservative media entertainment complex.