At the moment, all eyes in the budget battle that could lead to a government shutdown come Monday midnight are on the House of Representatives, where Republicans are looking for a way to at least stymie the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – without being held responsible for disrupting federal services and programs, furloughing hundreds of thousands of workers.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” warns Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, one of the minority of sitting lawmakers who actually did see that movie before – back in 1995/96 when a government shutdown was blamed largely on Republicans.
As House Speaker John Boehner was trying to organize his troops in the face of Democratic stone-walling over linking Obamacare to a budget deal, President Obama and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) of Washington State, who chairs the GOP conference in the House, were weighing in from the sidelines.
In their respective radio and Internet addresses Saturday, Obama and Rep. Rodgers had decidedly different messages about who is to blame for the potential impasse and what to do about it.
“Republicans in the House have been more concerned with appeasing an extreme faction of their party than working to pass a budget that creates new jobs or strengthens the middle class,” Obama said. “And in the next couple days, these Republicans will have to decide whether to join the Senate and keep the government open, or create a crisis that will hurt people for the sole purpose of advancing their ideological agenda.”
For her part, Rodgers leap-frogged the threat of an imminent government shutdown, focusing on what could be a more serious threat a couple of weeks out – failure to raise the debt limit by the Oct. 17 deadline, which would put the US government in default – something that’s never happened before – and be a major blow to the US economy and standing in the world.
“The president is now demanding that we increase the debt limit without engaging in any kind of bipartisan discussions about addressing our spending problem,” she said. “He wants to take the easy way out – exactly the kind of foolishness that got us here in the first place.”
"By an overwhelming margin, Americans believe any debt ceiling increase should be coupled with solutions that help solve our debt and grow our economy," Rodgers said, citing a list of things "from approving the Keystone pipeline and fixing our outdated tax code to delaying the president's health care law."
But this last point gets back to the main point in the current political stare-down: Tying Obamacare to budget and debt ceiling.
Tuesday Oct. 1 is the date for a possible government shutdown, and it’s also when a major provision of the Affordable Care Act kicks in, opening the health insurance marketplace for millions of Americans.
Naturally, Obama on Saturday had something to say about that too, pointing listeners and viewers to HealthCare.gov as he touted what’s likely to be remembered as the most important law passed during his presidency.
“This is a website where you can compare insurance plans, side-by-side, the same way you’d shop for a TV or a plane ticket,” he said. “You’ll see new choices and new competition. Many of you will see cheaper prices, and many of you will be eligible for tax credits that bring down your costs even more.”
“These marketplaces will be open for business on Tuesday, no matter what,” Obama said.
Unless, that is, every pundit is wrong and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada didn’t mean it when he said the only spending bill Democrats would vote for would be one “stripped of all the craziness.”