Senate leaders are almost finished with a debt limit proposal that would, according to a Senate aide and other reports, fund the government till January, raise the debt limit till February, and extract a small concession from Democrats on Obamacare.
As we learned in abundance last week, the Republicans' approval ratings aren't weathering the shut down very well. The plan, which has its basis in an idea from Senate Republicans, has one big element that appeals to Democrats: it pushes the next showdown closer to the 2014 midterm elections, without actually extending the shutdown itself. The plan, which more and more reads like a dare, comes on one of the last few days before the U.S. risks defaulting on its loans. Senate leaders are hoping to present the deal to President Obama later Monday afternoon — the White House delayed a scheduled 3 p.m. meeting to give Congress more time for the final details.
The negotiated plan between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would extend the debt ceiling into February 2014, according to a Senate aide, after bicameral budget negotiations in the last portion of this year. As you'll remember, Republicans once wanted to fund the government at sequestration levels with a bill that would also defund Obamacare, leading to the whole shutdown in the first place. But that's simply not going to happen.
So now, Congressional Republican leadership zeroed in on two Obamacare-related concessions to push in order to come away with something — income verification for those receiving subsidies on the exchanges, and a delay of the medical device tax. The former concession will likely make it into the deal, while the latter seems to be off the table for this round of negotiations. Here's where things stand, according to Politico:
Senate Democrats are open to a requirement that those receiving Obamacare subsidies be subject to income verification. But it appears that the fight over delaying Obamacare’s medical device tax is still a point of contention with Democrats objecting to its inclusion in the package, sources said. If sequestration were to continue in 2014, the proposal would give federal agencies more discretion to implement the across-the-board cuts.
Under the plan, the government would be funded at $986 billion until Jan. 15, the same day that a $21 billion across-the-board sequestration cut is slated to take place.
And that double deadline is very important. While, say, Ted Cruz might be very popular among Tea Party voters, he's only polling at 14 percent approval nationwide. That disparity is also weighing on the rest of his party as the shutdown continues. By moving the next big showdown opportunity closer to the elections, Democrats are asking Republicans to consider whether banking on the support of a loud conservative minority is really the best strategy for 2014. Especially given how well that same strategy worked last year. Especially when the majority of Americans blame Republicans for the current unpopular shutdown.
The plan is loosely based on an outline floated by Republican Sen. Susan Collins last week. But it's not identical to her idea by any means. While Democrats would like to see the next debt limit fight pushed as far into 2014 as possible, the budget is a different story. Collins's plan delayed the next budget fight for six months, more or less ensuring that the January sequestration cuts would go through without a hitch. Democrats would like to end sequestration level spending levels as soon as possible, and prevent the next round of cuts from happening at all. And now, if this plan goes through, Congress will have to fight over both current spending levels and the next round of sequestration cuts all at once. This time, however, 2014 will be slowly moving up to the foreground of the picture.
Update, 5:14 p.m.:The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza has more information on the other Obamacare-related tax that might end up axed because of the deal. But this one looks like it's a concession to labor unions, not to Republicans. The "bellybutton tax," otherwise known as the reinsurance tax, is supposed to offset the cost of insuring some Americans with pre-existing conditions:
So there's a 3-yr tax on insurance companies that creates pool to fund high cost of insuring people with expensive pre-existing conditions.— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) October 14, 2013
Labor unions that self-insure fall under the law and are thus subject to the 3-year tax. Sen Dems are pressing to delay or repeal the tax.— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) October 14, 2013
The hope is that, as Sen Dem aide says, "Republicans get to say they delayed/repealed a terrible Obamacare tax."— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) October 14, 2013