Former Republican savior thirsts for shutdown drama
With the 2016 presidential campaign around the corner, TPM's Sahil Kapur reports on yet another example of how Marco Rubio is clearly desperate for some of that Ted Cruz magic to wash over him:
Fourteen conservative senators, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), wrote a letter to Boehner on Wednesday calling on him to use the continuing resolution — which must be enacted by Dec. 11 to avert a shutdown — to prohibit "unappropriated and unauthorized funds" under a market stability mechanism in Obamacare known as risk corridors. The program collects funds from insurers who enroll healthier patients and pays insurers who enroll sicker patients.
The policy details here aren't exactly Game of Thrones material, but the basic idea of the risk corridor program is to make sure that in the early years of Obamacare, insurers don't get wiped out by unexpectedly high medical costs and don't get windfalls from unexpectedly low costs. It's an obvious and useful policy, but it requires the administration to spend money, and when it comes to appropriating funds for it, Congress was sloppy when drafting the language structuring the program. To sidestep the issue, the administration decided to describe the taxes paid by insurers as "user fees," because it has explicit statutory authority to fund the program through user fees.
This isn't the only way to justify the legal authority for the program, but it's the simplest. Problem is, the language allowing this interpretation expires on December 11. Why December 11? Because that's the expiration date for the stopgap funding bill passed by Congress last month.
That bill, known as a continuing resolution, essentially continued existing programs, including the language the administration is using to justify the risk corridor program. And Rubio, in his letter, is putting the squeeze on House Speaker John Boehner to not only change that language, but also to add additional language explicitly barring any justification for Obamacare risk corridors, when Congress reconvenes after the election to pass another continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown on December 12.
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Rubio has tried to present himself as a leader on opposition to the risk corridor program, and his current ploy is reminiscent to squeeze Ted Cruz put on Boehner in 2013, with one important difference: In 2013, people might not have agreed with Republicans trying to shut down the government over Obamacare repeal, but at least they understand what the GOP was trying to do. Rubio, meanwhile, is trying to have a government shutdown standoff over an obscure provision of Obamacare designed to reduce insurance risk. If you thought Cruz was tone deaf, just wait until you see what happens if Rubio gets his way here.
Oh, there's also one other big difference. Love him or hate him, nobody could ever accuse Ted Cruz of having voted for Obamacare. But when the Senate voted for the current continuing resolution, the one that Rubio now says needs to change because it is being used to justify the risk corridor program, Rubio voted for it. So even if he succeeds in rallying the GOP to force a shutdown, he'll be leading a shutdown effort to protest a law that he helped pass.