Defunding Obamacare: A Better Idea [Updated]

Over the last few days, a number of people have suggested a different approach that House Republicans might have taken, and might still take, toward the spending impasse. That is, to break discretionary spending down into a number of separate packages, perhaps corresponding to the various federal agencies, and pass them independently. The House might have begun, for example, by passing a continuing resolution that would fund the Defense Department for 90 days. Then on to the FTC, the Department of Education, and so on. These agencies would all be funded at the level set by the sequester, only, when the bills are all adopted, there would be no money for Obamacare.

That approach would have put much more pressure on Harry Reid and the Democrats in the Senate. They would have had two choices: either pass the spending bills as they were sent them by the House, or ignore the House’s CRs entirely and pass their own omnibus spending bill. That would have sent the competing bills to conference committee to resolve the chambers’ differences.

If the House had proceeded in that fashion, the political landscape would have been entirely different. No one could have accused the Republicans of trying to shut down the government. On the contrary, the House would have passed spending bills that funded all of the government except for Obamacare, and it would be hard for the Democrats to explain why they wouldn’t go along with, for example, a bill that funded the Defense Department. If the Democrats refused to agree to anything other than an omnibus bill that included Obamacare, it would be clear that it is the Democrats, not the Republicans, who are linking Obamacare to other, unrelated areas of the federal budget.

I have talked to a couple of congressional staffers about this approach, and haven’t heard any good reasons why it wouldn’t work. Is it too late to try it now? Perhaps not, but there is a lot of water over the dam. The Democrats would denounce it as another gimmick, and lots of voters would probably see it that way, given what has happened over recent days.

Meanwhile, the political consequences of the spending impasse appear to be about what the Democrats hoped for. Scott Rasmussen finds that President Obama’s standing with voters continues to rise, with his approval/disapproval now at a relatively lofty 52/47. At the same time, voters now prefer Democrats in the generic Congressional poll by four points, 42/38. As recently as August, the GOP led the generic poll.

Perhaps something will happen to turn voters’ perceptions around; failing that, we can hope that the damage is only temporary.

UPDATE: House Republicans have decided to adopt a limited version of the approach outlined here. They reportedly will bring up three bills for votes this evening, to fund the national parks, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and operations of the District of Columbia. Further, the bills will be offered under a rule that requires a 2/3 vote for passage, so House Democrats will be under pressure to go along. This is probably a good idea, but not a substitute for the fund-the-whole-government-piece-by-piece, but not Obamacare, concept.

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