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Government shutdown: How political money drives the fight over budget and Obamacare

Government shutdown: Washington faces three deadlines Monday: A possible government shutdown over funding, health insurance exchanges under Obamacare kick in, and the quarterly reporting of campaign contributions. In important ways, political money is driving all of it.

By Staff writer / September 29, 2013

House Speaker John Boehner leaves a Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol Saturday. Lawmakers from both parties urged one another in a rare weekend session to give ground in their fight over preventing a federal shutdown, with the midnight Monday deadline fast approaching.

Molly Riley/AP

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Washington

Congress is hurtling toward three deadlines at the stroke of midnight on Monday, all related: Barring congressional action, the federal government shuts down and the first-ever mandate for Americans to buy health insurance kicks in.

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Here’s the third deadline that may be having an outsized influence on the other two: The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) closes its books on the third quarter of campaign funding.

The shutdown and the launch of "Obamacare," two issues that will have a huge effect on American lives, have been the object of intense news media scrutiny. (A recap is coming.)  By contrast, financing for the 2014 campaign is an outcome of interest mainly to members of Congress, those who would oust them, and those who invest in politics by contributing to political campaigns.

But big events are good for fundraising – think Wall Street bailouts, bank regulation, energy bills, health-care legislation – and the fundraising around Obamacare and the prospects of a government shutdown has been intense.

It may also prove decisive, as Congress works out the endgame on a government shutdown and the future of Obamacare.

First, the recap: Early Sunday morning, the House rejected the Senate offer to fund government through the first six weeks of the new fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1, with no conditions.

Instead, House Republicans sent back to the Senate an amended measure that delays the launch of Obamacare, President Obama's signature health-care reform law, for a year. The measure passed on a near-party-line vote, 231 to 192.

The House also repealed a 2.3 percent sales tax on medical devicemakers and, in a surprise move, added a “conscience clause” that allows insurers to opt out of providing coverage for contraception – an issue that nearly derailed health-care reform at its inception.

The measure is dead on arrival in the Senate. The Democratic-controlled Senate on Friday stripped a House measure to defund Obamacare out of the House’s first stop-gap spending proposal, 54 to 44.  

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada says the Senate will not take up any measure that undermines health-care reform and the White House pledges to veto it. The House and Senate have until 11:59 p.m. Monday to work out their differences.

Meanwhile, there’s a fury of fundraising around these issues, the results of which will be clearer, at least for individual political candidates, after FEC filings, due Oct. 15.

The repeal of the medical-device tax, for example, could have been added to attract the support of senators from Massachusetts and Minnesota, where much of the industry is based. But if four Democratic senators are still reluctant to derail the new health-care law for medical devicemakers, the provision has a second function: It’s a good basis for raising campaign funds from an industry that has spent more than $150 million lobbying Congress since 2008.

The addition of a conscience clause on birth control also has been a strong basis for fundraising from both advocates and opponents.

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