They can hold their breath, stomp their feet, throw their toys, lock themselves in their rooms, refuse to eat dinner, and shout bad words at the top of their lungs, but even if Republicans manage to shut down the federal government, that supreme and reckless act of anti-democracy defiance will not stop the Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] from starting up on October 1, 2013. And not just for political reasons.
True, President Obama and the Democratic majority have stated that they are not going to approve any bill that defunds the new health care act, but there’s more to this story than parliamentary maneuvering. The October 1 launch will take place—even in the event of a Republican-forced government shutdown–because of the fundamental structure of the new law’s funding. The Obama administration pretty much anticipated that Republicans would try to defund a law that was legitimately passed by the majority, so it built in funding that can’t be stopped by the lack of a continuing resolution.
I’m not making this up out of wishful thinking. According to a report released in July 2013 by the Congressional Research Service [CRS], “It appears that substantial ACA implementation might continue during a lapse in annual appropriations.”
The Washington Post’s Wonk Blog explains it this way:
There are a few reasons for this. For one thing, the lapse in appropriations only hits so-called “discretionary” funding. But the ACA’s core functions are on the “mandatory” side of the budget. So, for instance, the money for tax credits and Medicaid expansion would arrive on schedule. State and federal exchanges would still operate. The individual mandate would still be in place.
So a lot of the law’s funding would be unaffected. Meanwhile, the more marginal spending that is affected could be backfilled by the Obama administration moving mandatory money around, and even going beyond that, the White House could argue that crucial positions fall into the bucket of essential personnel who are protected during a government shutdown. So while it wouldn’t be ideal, implementation would move forward.
Most of the funding for Obamacare comes from new taxes and fees, from cost cuts to other programs like Medicare and other types of funding that carry on even in the event of a government shutdown. Plus, [even in a shutdown] the law would still be in effect, so its many new requirements – everything from forcing insurance companies to cover anyone who wants insurance to forcing everyday Americans to carry health insurance or pay a fine – would still be in effect, too.
So, Republicans, stomp and shout, bloviate and fulminate, foam at the mouth and scream. Your government shutdown will hurt America and may hurt you, but it’s not going to stop the start of the new health care law. As Tracy Turnblad sang, in the Broadway musical Hairspray, “You can’t stop the beat.” Even Mitch McConnell knows that.