Kabuki Theater: Republican Plan To ‘Defund Obamacare’ Won’t Defund Obamacare

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) sought to assure House conservatives that Republican senators are “going to fight with every breath in our body” to defund the Affordable Care Act during an appearance on Fox News Wednesday night, even though the effort wouldn’t affect the most important parts of the health care law.

The comments come after Cruz infuriated House Republicans by conceding that GOP’s effort to strip funding from the law in legislation designed to keep the government open through Dec. 15. would fall short in the Democratically-controlled Senate.

“Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so,” Cruz said in a joint statement with Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). “At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people.”


GOP lawmakers shot back at Cruz, fuming, “We haven’t even taken up the bill and Ted Cruz is admitting defeat?” “Some people came here to govern and make things better for their constituents. Ted Cruz came here to throw bombs and fundraise off of attacks on fellow Republicans. He’s a joke, plain and simple.” “House agrees to send #CR to Senate that defunds Obamacare. @SenTedCruz & @SenMikeLee refuse to fight. Wave white flag and surrender,” Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) tweeted.

Inter-party squabbling aside, defunding Obamacare in the continuing resolution would only target the parts of the law that are subject to annual appropriations. The pillars of reform — Medicaid expansion, the subsidies used to buy insurance — are exempt from this process and are funded through so-called “mandatory” spending and have permanent funding authority. The Department of Health and Human Services, the agency tasked with implementing reform, also “has the ability to fund related provisions without seeking additional appropriations from Congress.” The Congressional Budget Office estimates that there is “at least $50 billion in specified and estimated authorizations of discretionary spending” that Republicans could presumably target.

In an e-mail exchange with ThinkProgress, Brian Phillips, Lee’s communications director, repeatedly refused to say whether the senator is willing to pressure the Senate to ensure that provisions defunding the health care law remain in the continuing resolution that the Senate receives from the House. Instead, he argued that with 44 Republicans in favor of defunding health care reform, Reid doesn’t have the 60 votes necessary to reinstate funding. He would not concede that Reid could vote down the House measure and pass a Senate version that does not include the health care language. “The question is, will Harry Reid ‘go to the mat’ and shut down the government to protect an increasingly unpopular law?” Phillips asked.

Recent polls show that while the law remains broadly unpopular, just 6 percent of registered voters, including 7 percent of Republicans, want Congress to delay or defund it.