The congressional fight over Obamacare, part 341

September 16, 2013

The congressional calendar this week suggests that the House will begin debating a short-term spending plan while the Senate continues work on a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill. But really all that lawmakers will be doing is fighting yet again about President Obama's health-care law.


Sen. David Vitter (La.) is among the Republican lawmakers pushing to curtail or invalidate the nation's health-care law. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

In the House, Republican leaders are weighing how to include provisions in the short-term spending plan that would cut off funding for the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. Dozens of House conservatives are demanding an up-or-down vote on the proposal, but Senate Democrats warn that any spending plan that would delay or cut funding for the legislation will be rejected in the upper chamber.

Meanwhile in the Senate, the bill under consideration would improve building codes, provide financial incentives for using energy-efficient products, and provide federal funding for the research and development of new energy-efficient technology. But the fate of the legislation, sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), is in limbo as several Republican senators are hoping to amend the bill with plans to -- you guessed it -- delay or cut funding for the health-care law.

There's an amendment from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Dan Coats (Ind.) that would postpone for one year the law's individual mandate to buy health insurance. Then there's a proposal by Sen. David Vitter (La.) that would stop the government from contributing to health-care coverage purchased by lawmakers, their staffs and top executive branch officials on the new federal exchanges. Finally, Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) is sponsoring an amendment that would delay for one year the entire law.

The proposals prompted Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to say last week that "anarchists" are taking over the Senate.

But Reid will be forced in the coming days to determine which, if any, of the GOP amendments might earn an up-or-down vote. In anticipation, Democratic aides are reportedly working on amendments that would limit government contributions to a lawmaker buying health insurance if there is “probable cause” that they solicited prostitutes. That would be a subtle way to remind voters that Vitter was once entangled in a prostitution scandal. In response, Vitter is asking the Senate ethics committee to investigate whether Reid and other Senate Democrats violated rules by circulating legislative proposals that would link 'awmakers' health-care benefits to work performance.

Will the House pass a short-term budget this week? Maybe. Will the Senate pass its energy-efficiency bill? Wait and see. But this much we know: Congress will once again be embroiled in disagreements over Obamacare.

Here are a few other things to monitor this week on Capitol Hill:

1. Syria: Lawmakers in both parties responded tepidly over the weekend to the news that the United States and Russia reached an agreement to seize and destroy chemical weapons in Syria -- and nobody seemed entirely happy. Members of the House and the Senate are expected to watch whether Syria meets a Friday deadline to provide an inventory of its chemical weapons but have otherwise shelved plans to authorize U.S. military force.

(For The Washington Post)
(For The Washington Post)

2. Farm bill: The House passed a scaled-down version of the farm bill in July and Republican leaders plan to hold a vote as early as this week on a measure that would fund food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Details of the legislation could come as early as Monday, but supporters hope to strip out about $40 billion in SNAP funding over the next decade, a figure 10 times more than the Senate approved. Congressional Democrats say they will oppose the GOP proposal. The current farm bill is set to expire on Sept. 30 and if a new measure isn't passed by then, American farmers in January will fall back to a 1949 law governing the industry.

3. Immigration reform: If fights over the budget and the federal debt limit can be sorted out by late October and the situation in Syria subsides -- both incredibly big "ifs" -- then the House might begin voting on immigration legislation by late October, House aides said. The process would begin with votes on a bipartisan bill to revamp security along the U.S.-Mexican border. House Democrats pushing for votes on immigration legislation are scheduled to meet this week with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to gauge whether there is any hope for the issue in coming weeks.

Caroline Kennedy (Mary Altaffer/AP)
Caroline Kennedy (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

4. Caroline Kennedy comes to Capitol Hill: The daughter of the 35th president has a date Thursday with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is considering her nomination to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to Japan. All indications suggest a swift and easy confirmation process for Kennedy, who -- if things had gone differently -- might instead be serving in the U.S. Senate.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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