As of 8:00 pm in Washington, D.C., the House of Representatives is working on its third debt ceiling proposal in the past week. The first bill would have completely defunded the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare.” It was quickly rejected by the Senate. The second bill would have delayed all aspects of the ACA for one year. Again, the Senate promptly tabled it. Now the House is considering a proposal that the Senate would be embarrassed to reject.
The House is currently considering a bill that would trade an increase in the debt ceiling for a one-year delay of the ACA’s individual mandate, and a repeal of Congress’ special exemption from the law. Those are the two aspects of the ACA that are most detested by the American public. Tonight, the Senate may be offered the unenviable choice of accepting those terms or assuring a temporary shutdown of the federal government starting at midnight.
The decision will be more difficult than it seems. The success of the ACA as a whole depends on millions of Americans – especially young, uninsured Americans – purchasing insurance in one of the new, ACA-mandated “insurance exchanges.” The individual mandate is the only reason most Americans have to participate in an exchange. Without the individual mandate requiring people to participate, the ACA would falter, if not fail completely.
Most Americans don’t realize that the individual mandate is the lynchpin of the ACA. They will consider it an easy choice put in front of the Senate – to ditch the ACA’s coercion and cronyism in exchange for a functioning government. That said, polls currently suggest that House Republicans will be blamed if the government shuts down. Unless the GOP is able to re-frame the Senate’s choice as one between the much-hated individual mandate and an operating government they will lose in public opinion.