Hours before the Senate was due to announce a widely previewed deal to end the shutdown face-off and extend the debt limit, House leadership has come up with a last-ditch version of its own, adding in the so-called Vitter amendment for lawmakers and cabinet officials and delaying the medical-device tax for a couple of years. It isn’t clear even the House Republicans would accept such thin gruel for a two-week shutdown, and it is even less clear that the White House and Senate Democrats would give the House anything at this point.
The House rationale is two-fold: Get something on substance and save face. The latter, I think, is impossible. One doesn’t prevent being jammed by rushing forth with a measure that is virtually the same as the Senate version; it tends to emphasize that the House is getting jammed. Moreover, it underscores what the House could have gotten had its right-wingers not messed around for two weeks. Yes, they could have pared back their demands weeks ago to have gotten something on these points and maybe even relief on the individual mandate while the exchange debacle was still preventing Americans from buying insurance. Moreover, if hardline Republicans were to embrace it, this also would highlight how silly were their recent attacks on the medical-device tax relief as a bone to “K Street.” It would be good to eliminate the medical-device tax entirely; one hopes a two-year delay wouldn’t throw away the potential for a complete repeal.
On substantive grounds, the Vitter issue was a solution to an incorrectly perceived unfairness (i.e. private-sector employees get an employer health-care contribution; the “difference” in treatment was simply to give staffers the same support other employees already enjoy). It was a political talking point and not much more.
The House improvements to the Senate deal are small, but it is also a clever way of reminding right-wingers what they should have been doing all along. One might view this as a way for House Speaker John Boehner — with a plan just a few clicks to the right of what the Senate had on the table — to bait hardliners into breaking with Heritage Action and others who still want, believe it or not, to defund Obamacare. If they don’t, they get jammed after all with the Senate plan.
There is no reason logically for Republicans to vote against it (unless they still cower at the sight of Jim DeMint), but there is no reason for Democrats to let them have it.
Frankly, there is no way of disguising the damage done by House and Senate radical right-wingers. They threw away an opportunity for real gains, distracted the public from the disastrous Obamacare roll-out and the real design flaws in the entire program and made the GOP look downright foolish. It will take quite a while to recover from all that.
UPDATE: So far House Democrats, Senate Democrats, the White House and hard-liner Republicans all oppose the House plan. A House GOP leadership aide says, “Members were largely supportive of the plan that House Republican Leaders outlined. Some Members suggested specific changes on a handful of issues that would increase support, and Leaders are discussing those suggestions now.” It seems some hardliners won’t take a lifeline when it is thrown to them.