President: Rae Chornenky
Editor: Maria Jeffrey

What Does Defunding ObamaCare Really Mean? What You Need to Know

During this August recess, the push is being made by some Republicans to defund ObamaCare when Congress comes back in September. Here is what you need to know about this brewing funding fight:
  • Background: The 2013 fiscal year ends on September 30, and in order to prevent a funding gap, Congress needs to appropriate funds for the government to continue operating. Further, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew wrote a letter to Speaker Boehner yesterday informing him that the debt ceiling will have been reached by mid-October. 
  • Congressional action so far: Some Republicans, like Senator Mike Lee (R-IA) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), see this upcoming appropriations process as an opportunity to defund ObamaCare. On July 11, 2013, Senator Cruz introduced the Defund ObamaCare Act, S. 1292, which has 29 Republican co-sponsors. The 16 Republican Senators who chose not to co-sponsor the bill are: Senators Chiesa (NJ), Coats (IN), Coburn (OK), Cochran (MS), Collins (ME), Corker (TN), Crapo (ID), Flake (AZ), Hatch (UT), Hoeven (ND), Johnson (WI), Kirk (IL), McCain (AZ), Murkowski (AK), Sessions (AL), and Shelby (AL). Representative Tom Graves (R-GA) has introduced similar legislation in the House, the Defund ObamaCare Act of 2013, or HR 2682. It was also introduced on July 11, 2013, and has 138 co-sponsors. 
  • Can ObamaCare be defunded through an appropriations bill? Yes. By refusing to appropriate funds to implement and enforce ObamaCare, the law would remain intact but the processes required to implement the bill's provisions, like the exchange marketplace, could not continue being implemented and the various mandates the law created could not be enforced. 
  • What about the difference between mandatory and discretionary spending? A defunding measure in an appropriations bill can stop discretionary spending and some mandatory spending, and there are two good examples of this being done recently: one, the Hyde Amendment bans federal funding for abortion by amending the Medicaid entitlement program and has been attached to appropriation bills since 1976; second, Congress already defunded the co-op health insurance program which was part of ObamaCare in section 1857 of the Continuing Resolution passed in April 2011. The Heritage Foundation states that, "Congress routinely enacts changes to mandatory spending as part of its annual appropriations process....the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recognizes these changes when analyzing spending bills and scores them as CHiMPS--changes in mandatory program spending." To read more about this issue, click here.  
  • Will a fight over defunding ObamaCare lead to a government shutdown? If Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill that defunded ObamaCare but kept in tact other government spending, President Obama could veto the bill, in which case it would have to be re-passed by Congress with a 2/3 majority. In the interim, though, if the new fiscal year has started and funds have not been appropriated to continue the operations of the government, agencies "do not have budget authority available for obligation for things like salaries or rent. Under the Antideficiency Act, the agency may obligate funds in certain 'excepted' areas, but these obligations are highly restricted. As a consequence, the agency must shut down non-exempted activities until budget authority is provided" according to the Congressional Research Service's August 6, 2013 report titled Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes Processes, and Effects. The last government shutdowns occurred in 1995-1996, for 5 and 21 days respectively. From 1977-1980, there were six funding gaps, or shutdowns, that lasted from 8 to 17 days. From 1981-1995, there were nine shutdowns that lasted up to three days. If Republicans unite and pursue defunding ObamaCare, it could be that an appropriations impasse arises.
  • Do Republicans have enough votes to defund ObamaCare? Not yet, as Senator Cruz admitted this week on State of the Union with Candy Crowley:
    Ted Cruz on Defunding Obamacare, the Grassroots Tsunami, and More on CNN's State of the Union
    Ted Cruz on Defunding Obamacare, the Grassroots Tsunami, and More on CNN's State of the Union
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