Members of Congress are racing against the clock to hammer out a deal that would reopen the government and lift the risk of default before October 17. On that day, the country will hit the ‘debt ceiling’ — that’s the day when the U.S. exhausts its borrowing authority, and, if there’s no deal, we’ll be forced to pay our bills with whatever cash is on hand, raising a serious prospect of default.
House Republicans brought the government to a shutdown by refusing to fund Obamacare, but with the added leverage of the debt ceiling, their demands have since grown. As we reach the final hours before the deadline, here’s the latest news on where we stand on getting a deal done:
The Newest (Old) Sticking Point: Birth Control
The latest thing that House Republicans are demanding in order to throw their support to a funding and debt limit bill? A birth-control related provision that allows the owner of a non-religious company to opt out of covering birth control for their female employees, citing religious reasons.
Coverage for birth control copays is one of the provisions in Obamacare, but Republicans have claimed that it requires employers to cover abortion. It does not. And, in fact, the administration has already compromised on the birth control point by exempting some organizations from this provision.
Two things to remember about this latest push: First, even if this is the magic puzzle piece to get House Republicans to approve their leadership’s proposal, it’s not going to go far. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has already indicated that the House proposal is unworkable in the Senate, and this will only make it more unpalatable to Democrats there.
Second, this fight originated over government funding and the country’s debt. It has always been about economics and budget. This demand by Republicans has absolutely nothing to do with the country’s finances, and shows just how little their demands have to do with our fiscal future.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) tells the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that the House Republican’s plan has “no Democratic support,” and that “a vote for this is a vote for default and for keeping the government shut down.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says there is support, however, for the Senate’s plan.
Meanwhile, Republicans aren’t seeing enough support for Republican leadership’s bill on their side of the aisle, either. CNN’s Dana Bash reports that House Republicans don’t have the votes to get their proposal passed.
Not content with just requiring members of Congress to enroll in the exchanges set up under Obamacare, the Tea Party Republicans are now demanding a provision to force all staff on Capitol Hill to enroll in the exchanges without an employer contribution.
Seventy-five percent of a Hill staffer’s insurance plan has been covered for a long time by their employer, the government. But thanks to some language added by Republicans onto the health care law, all Congressional staff now has to purchase insurance through the exchanges. A few months ago, the Office of Personnel Management ordered that staff can still receive their employer contribution, but they are not eligible for subsidies. This proposal would take away contributions, too, meaning that staffers (even those making earning the lowest congressional salaries) would be required to pay 100 percent of their insurance costs.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he was “blindsided by the news from the House,” and that it was a “waste of time,” particularly related to the House language that removes the “extraordinary measures” authority from the Treasury, and for removing the budget committee proposed in the Senate plan. “For weeks, Republicans have claimed they want to negotiate,” Reid said. “They’ve complained about a lack of a budget, now they don’t even want us to negotiate a budget.”
“Let’s be clear,” Reid added, “the House Republican legislation will not pass the Senate.”