Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) has come up with a historical parallel to the first two weeks of the Affordable Care Act's healthcare exchanges: FEMA's handling of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that cost 2,000 lives in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005.
"We're back at the same place we were before, which is that Obamacare's unworkable," Huelskamp told reporters after exiting the House Republican conference meeting on Wednesday. "The president's statements in support of [Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen] Sebelius seem awfully, eerily similar to George W. Bush saying [ to then-FEMA director Mike Brown] 'Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job' during Katrina. And to say this is rollout is much different than Hurricane Katrina, they're very similar."
Republicans have previously compared Hurricane Katrina to Superstorm Sandy, the IRS scandal, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Fort Hood shootings, the Haiti earthquake, the GM bailout, and the underwear bomber. Huelskamp, a second-term tea party Republican, has been a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act exchanges, posting regular updates on Twitter and his House website on his failure to create his own HealthCare.gov account. But he suggested that the road ahead would become more difficult for Obamacare opponents once the law's Medicaid expansion takes into effect in certain states on January 1 and complicate future defunding efforts: "I don't think it's too late, but I'll have to think about what the implication is. January 1 is a big date."
On Wednesday morning, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ended his two-week standoff with the White House and Senate Democrats, agreeing to bring to a vote a Senate-brokered bill to raise the debt ceiling through February 7 and fund the federal government through January 15. But a light at the end of the tunnel of this latest Capitol Hill crisis didn't mean an end to the GOP political theatrics. Even as House Republicans were capitulating on the demands that had precipitated this standoff, they were convening a hearing to get to the bottom of why the National Park Service had shuttered the memorials on the National Mall, hauling NPS director Jonathan Jarvis before the committees on oversight and natural resources in an effort to portray the closures as a politically motivated effort to turn up the heat on the GOP.
"I regret that [Jarvis] would not come voluntarily and had to be subpoenaed and served by a US Marshal," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), sounding almost as if he meant it.
For 15 days, Republicans have tried to turn Jarvis into the villain of the shutdown by highlighting the closure of popular sites like the WWII memorial. He was the lead player in this right-wing conspiracy theory, in which Obama had supposedly forced parks and memorials to close to make the GOP-cased shutdown appear worse than it really was. On Saturday, hundreds of veterans demonstrated against the closure of this site on the National Mall, joined by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. At the time, conservatives hailed the protest as a game-changer in the public relations war. And apparently they still do.
At the hearing, Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, alleged that the monument closures were indeed "an attempt to make the shutdown as painful and as visible as possible" and their reopening was "an attempt to squash the ensuing bad PR."
Republican congressmen had a handy point of comparison for the closures on the National Mall: Occupy DC set up camp on the NPS-maintained McPherson Square for 100 days in 2011 without harassment from park police. "Do you consider it an exercise of your First Amendment right to walk to a monument that you helped build," Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked Jarvis, "or is it only just smoking pot at McPherson Square?"
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) seized on a quote, provided anonymously from a NPS ranger to a Washington Times columnist, that "we've been told to make life as difficult for the people as we can." Over the last two weeks, conservatives have cited this as evidence the White House may have orchestrated the monument closures. Jarvis insisted that it was strictly an NPS decision. He denied any such order to make life difficult and said the quote—which after all appeared in a newspaper that regularly publishes Ted Nugent—was "hearsay." "It may be hearsay," Mica said, but he was sticking to it.
Midway through his opening remarks, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, held up a small blue-edged hand mirror. "If those Republican colleagues will look at me, I will show you who's responsible." Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.)—who recently called on the "four branches of government" to work together—stood up from his chair on the far side of his room and stared blankly in DeFazio's direction, then sat down. Most of his colleagues kept their focus straight ahead.
House Republicans may have lost the shutdown war, but at least they still think they're winning.
As a US senator Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) was liked, but not well liked. "He was a popular Democrat in a red state, and most of his efforts seemed to be devoted to keeping it that way," as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein put it upon Bayh's retirement in 2011. Bayh talked a lot about the deficit without doing much to lower it and talked about Washington dysfunction without doing much to ease it.
After retiring, Bayh became a partner at a Washington lobbying firm. His first issue: something called the medical-device tax, a provision of the Affordable Care designed to pay for the bill's expanded coverage provisions by extracting more revenue from companies that manufacture things like pacemakers. "As a result of the looming device tax, production is moving overseas, good jobs are going to Europe and Asia, and cutting-edge medical devices will now be produced elsewhere for import into the U.S," he wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal last year. "Meanwhile, the impact on the quality of care is incalculable but no less real. Thirty billion dollars must be taken out of operations or R&D. Who knows what lifesaving devices that might have been developed will fall victim to this tax?"
That wasn't really true. As an editorial in Bloomberg Viewput it, "Just about everything the medical-device industry says about the tax is either untrue or exaggerated." Bayh's claim was based on an industry-funded study that in turn offered no support for its fearful claims; repealing the tax would mean the law no longer paid for itself; and because more people would have access to health care under the law, demand for medical devices was guaranteed to increase.
But the industry's argument took hold. Flash-forward to Tuesday morning, with the nation teetering on the brink of default and the federal government into its third week of a shutdown. After raging against the Affordable Care Act since 2009 as a tyrannical expansion of government, House Republicans appeared to have settled on a final proposal that settled for a far short of repealing or defunding Obamacare: a repeal of the medical device tax. As the Daily Beast's Ben Jacobs pointed out, it was hardly the sweeping victory conservative activists hoped for when they packed the House with true believers in 2010. The push for the device tax repeal made for strange alliances—even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), whose state is home to a number of major medical device firms, supported it.
Tuesday afternoon, after some conservative Republicans raised concerns that the repeal amounted to "crony capitalism," GOP leaders stripped the device tax repeal from the proposed deal. If it had become law, Evan Bayh's change to the Affordable Care Act would have added $30 billion to the deficit he used to care so much about.
Update: Heritage Action, the political action arm of the right's top think tank and a leader in the anti-Obamacare crusade, is urging members to vote against House Speaker John Boehner's latest proposal to end the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. After the tea partyish organization declared its opposition, the House Rules Committee postponed a Tuesday night hearing on the bill, an indication Boehner's plan might be dead even before arrival within his own caucus. So...buy gold.
Update II: It's official: No vote on Tuesday.
On Tuesday afternoon Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) unveiled his final offer to end the shutdown and stave off a catastrophic federal default. The GOP's proposal would fund the federal government through December 15 (setting up a possible Christmas shutdown; hooray!), raise the debt ceiling through February 7, and incorporate what's known as the "Vitter amendment"—language prohibiting congressional staffers from receiving subsidies for the purchase of health insurance. It would also prohibit the Secretary of the Treasury from taking "extraordinary measures" to prevent the default—which some Republicans have previously suggested might help stave off the crisis—due to fears among GOP congressmen that Secretary Jack Lew was using his powers to fudge the deadline.
Not included in the bill are several provisions that had been discussed previously, such as a "conscience clause" to exempt employers from having to include birth control as part of their insurance plans, and a delay of repeal of the Affordable Care Act's tax on medical device manufacturers—a proposal supported by donors but rejected by some conservative members. Boehner is set to bring the bill to a vote Tuesday night, leaving it up to the Senate, where Democrats have previously opposed all efforts to include the Vitter amendment in impasse-ending legislation. Some House Republicans had considered ditching town after the vote, in the hopes of forcing the point.
We'll keep you updated. In the meantime, you can read the bill:
On Tuesday morning, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) held a meeting to brief House GOP members on his new plan to stave off a US government default and end the government shutdown. The proposed package would include a two-year delay of the Affordable Care Act's tax on medical devices, eliminate the health insurance employer subsidy for members of Congress, and require income verification for people who qualify for federal subsidies under Obamacare. It would also prohibit the Department of the Treasury from taking "extraordinary measures" to postpone a debt crisis. The measure would fund the government until mid-January and raise the debt ceiling until early February.
Immediately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Boehner's plan would be DOA if it ever reaches the Senate. And initial reports noted that it did not have the full backing of Boehner's caucus—partly because tea partiers were upset that this plan would still allow employer subsidies for the health insurance of congressional staffers. Many members who left the meeting declined to say how they'd vote. Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) pried open an elevator door to escape reporters hurling questions at him. But several Republican legislators said there was another provision they wanted included in the legislation: a so-called "conscience clause" that would exempt employers (citing religious objections) from having to provide coverage for birth control as part of the health care plans they offer employees. This idea has been on the Republican wish list for years—Obamacare already has this sort of exemption for churches, mosques, and other places of worship—and with Washington in full-on crisis mode, GOPers are looking to exploit current circumstances to win this long-running fight.
"There are a lot of people, and I'm one of those, who are really pushing for a conscience clause to be included," said Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), a former consultant and End-Times novelist who was elected last fall. "They want to have some principle that they could go home and say, 'we fought for this, and we got this.'"
Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.), who came out of the meeting undecided on the Boehner proposal ("We were in there for two hours and I don't think I know" what's in the package), said he'd "love to see" a conscience clause added to the legislation. Asked if he could support a final bill that didn't include such a measure, Long paused: "I wanna wait and see what the final thing looks like." Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), an influential leader among House conservatives and the chair of the Republican Study Committee, and Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) each said that the birth control provision was among the extra items being discussed by his colleagues during Boehner's latest last-ditch effort. "That's something that's very important," Jordan remarked.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) noted that he was supportive of the idea—he specifically cited the Catholic charitable organization Little Sisters of the Poor—but he discounted the odds: "That's not an issue that would cause it to succeed or fail in the conference and the president or the majority leader in the Senate have not mentioned it as a possibility." Yet given the current House GOP chaos, there's no telling what lines the die-hard tea partiers will be drawing as default nears. Many of them are still clinging to their anti-Obamacare crusade—which means Boehner may still be far from crafting a plan that can win support in the House, let alone the Senate.