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Why government shutdown won't stop Obamacare

Government shutdown would grind many federal programs to a halt, but Obamacare isn't one of them. A freeze on spending wouldn't end the program's tax credits for lower-income Americans or mandates.

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Senate majority leader Harry Reid has pronounced it “dead” in his chamber, and even firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas has said that Senator Reid probably has the votes to back that up. Plus, would Obama sign a bill that guts his signature domestic achievement? That isn’t going to happen. Obama has already promised he would veto it, if it somehow found its way to his desk.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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That leads us to a possible shutdown. Will the House refuse to pass a continuing resolution without the defund Obamacare language? If that happens, many government activities would grind to a halt after Oct. 1. However, implementation of Obamacare would not be one of them.

There are two reasons this is so, according to CRS. The first is that the federal government has multiple pots of money on which to draw when it comes to ACA implementation.

A shutdown would stop government activities that rely on the discretionary funds provided by annual appropriations. But ACA implementation right now is paid for by multiple-year and mandatory spending. That kind of stuff rolls on, pretty much no matter what.

“In the event of a temporary lapse in discretionary appropriations that results in a government shutdown, it seems likely that the Administration will continue to rely on alternative sources of funding to support ACA implementation activities,” writes CRS.

In addition, projected health insurance subsidies for many lower-income Americans aren’t payments, but tax credits. Those aren’t appropriations at all. And even if the government shuts down, the IRS could continue to process these credits.

That brings us to the second reason Obamacare would roll on: Government agencies have some leeway to structure their activities. IRS employees could still take applications from Americans eligible for subsidies, “even if the salaries of the federal employees who are making those determinations have lapsed," according to CRS.

Given that a new defunding Obamacare provision is not going to pass, and a government shutdown won’t shut down Obamacare enrollment, many Republicans in Washington believe the defund effort is all hat and no cattle.

It is not that these members of the GOP support the health-care law. Far from it. It is that they do not see a positive outcome from the current situation.

“It just seems to me that what’s happened unfortunately is that American expectations on Republicans and what they can do have been raised to a level that’s beyond delivery,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee on Thursday.

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