Congress approved its first regular spending bill in years this past week, in a move hailed by many as a return to fiscal sanity. But there’s a potential danger for Republicans lurking in the depths of the $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriation package that sailed through both houses: Obamacare.
While the GOP managed to win some concessions on the Affordable Care Act, conservatives see the spending bill as “funding Obamacare,” as RedState wrote. It’s basically the same thing that Ted Cruz and other conservatives blocked a few months ago, forcing a government shutdown, and Cruz tried again to rally support for blocking the spending bill.
Tea-party and conservative groups railed against the bill, while Heritage Action warned lawmakers to vote against the package, saying that “by continuing to fund implementation of Obamacare, the omnibus bill would continue to entangle taxpayer dollars in abortion coverage.” The bill passed, of course, thanks in part to the lesson of October.
But it could still create problems for Republicans who face primary challenges from the right — including for some who didn’t even vote for the bill.
Republican Rep. Jack Kingston is facing a tough Senate primary in Georgia, and he will face off Saturday night against his opponents in the first debate of the race. He also happens to be the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for health care funding.
In December, he said he would use his post to “do everything we can to try to defund [Obamacare] or dismantle it,” telling Fox News: “I’m chairing the committee that actually defunds Obamacare.” He was so committed that other appropriators worried they’d have to work around him to get a bill done.
Of course, the bill that emerged from his subcommittee and then passed both chambers did not defund Obamacare. Kingston voted against the omnibus package (in fact he was the only appropriator to do so), but retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, Kingston’s counterpart in the upper chamber, was not going to let Kingston wipe his hands clean.
On Thursday, Harkin took to the Senate floor to thank Kingston for his help. “I’m proud to have worked out a fair agreement with my ranking member, Senator Jerry Moran from Kansas, as well as with my colleagues on the House side, including Chairman Jack Kingston,” Harkin said. “No one got 100 percent of what they wanted in this bill, which is often a sign of probably a pretty good deal.” Harkin went on to praise the fact that the bill includes several billion in funding for programs he inserted in the Affordable Care Act.
The retiring Democrat was “stirring the pot ahead of first GOP Senate debate,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution‘s Greg Bluestein noted. “Having any fingerprints on the spending plan may not go over well with ultra-conservatives who the candidates are trying to win over.”
Kingston, of course, is in a unique position as chairman of the committee that oversees health care spending. But if his conservative primary challengers take the bait tonight, he probably won’t be the last Republican to face heat for funding Obamacare in the budget.
That might be part of the reason why some Republicans want to forgo a budget entirely next time around.
A spokesman for Kingston’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.
Members of Congress are eyeing a one-week spending bill which would keep the government open past the Friday night deadline, giving lawmakers an extra week to iron out a long-term deal to fund the government. Without any action, the government would run out of funding starting at midnight Saturday. “I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
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