WASHINGTON — Here’s what we know: the U.S. Senate will sign off this weekend on a short-term budget bill that preserves the Affordable Care Act and funds the government through mid-December.
From there, most lawmakers, including Minnesota’s two Democratic senators, aren’t quite sure what’s going to happen.
“I’m not in the predicting business,” Sen. Al Franken said Wednesday when asked to put odds on a deal. “But I hope there’s not a shutdown.”
Lawmakers only have until Monday to pass a bill preventing one. Senators are poised to pass theirs this weekend, taking out a GOP-backed provision repealing Obamacare, then wait to see what House members do when they get it back.
“It will be up to the House,” Franken said, “and we hope the House will do the right thing.”
Senate to pass a ‘clean’ bill
The Senate’s bill is likely to be reasonably straight-forward: Send a “clean” resolution (one simply funding the government at current levels, without the Obamacare repeal) back to the House, which could then either accept it or give it back to the Senate with additional provisions. House leaders have said they want to avoid a shutdown and could announce their strategy on Thursday (National Review has a preview of what that might look like).
A clean resolution means both sides lose out on what they hoped to achieve through a shutdown fight: Republicans want to damage Obamacare in some way, and many Democrats had hoped to restore some of the automatic spending cuts that took effect this spring.
Beyond just repealing the health care law — which, with Democrats in power, was doomed from the start — a group of senators have floated a plan to repeal the law’s medical device tax through a budget resolution. That measure won big support when the Senate put it into a non-binding budget bill earlier this year, and every member of Minnesota’s delegation has backed repeal, but Sen. Amy Klobuchar told Politico on Wednesday it isn’t likely to happen right now.
“It just starts getting very complex if we start playing around with things like that,” he said.
Meanwhile, some liberals have said a must-pass budget bill to prevent a government shutdown is as good a time as any to undo this year’s sequestration cuts, but that’s not in the cards, either. On Wednesday, both Klobuchar and Franken said that’s a bigger fight and one to take up later on.
“Most of us are trying to keep the government open,” Klobuchar said.
Despite Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 21-hour speech against Obamacare this week, enough Republicans have said they’ll side with Democrats to push it over the procedural hurdle needed to take out the House’s repeal language, which Klobuchar has deemed a “partisan poison pill.” The Senate could move on its final bill by Saturday, leaving at least two days for House Republicans to do what they will with the legislation.
GOP lawmakers, from leadership to members like Minnesota Rep. John Kline, have said they’re not looking to force a shutdown over repealing Obamacare, and that the debt limit fight, set for mid-October, might be a better time to try that. They’re reportedly considering small changes to Obamacare, including ending the device tax, in lieu of full repeal. In National Journal, Rep. Erik Paulsen said, “We’re closer to the deadline, so folks start thinking differently as our options narrow.”
Even so, the tight Monday deadline is such that if Republicans decide to send a revised budget bill ping-ponging back to the Senate, a shutdown could happen due to missed deadlines if nothing else.
But despite the uncertainty, Klobuchar predicted the government will stay open after all.
“I think cooler heads will prevail and we will be able to get this done,” she said.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.