Congress grappling with shutdown threat as funding deadline zooms into view

Once again, Congress is staring at the edge of the abyss. 

Lawmakers return to session next week with just four days to fund the government and avert a shutdown. The deadline is April 28.

The dynamics are different this time, compared with the 2013 meltdown. There’s a Republican House and Senate. This is the first government funding go-round with President Trump occupying the White House. No one is quite sure how the Trump administration will handle the negotiations or what are their untouchable requests. But there’s not a lot of time to figure this out. Some Republicans fret that House GOP leaders burned way too much time trying to rescue their stunted health care bill.

A lapse in government funding would represent the second major legislative failure by Trump and the Republican Congress. A shutdown, following the failure to repeal and replace ObamaCare, could prove politically catastrophic for the exclusive, governing party in Washington.

But here are the keys. First, funding the government could, yet again, hinge on ObamaCare. Secondly, while Republicans run Washington, Democrats hold many of the cards in this poker game.

The House GOP’s stumble to repeal and replace ObamaCare before the recess didn’t appear to have a direct connection to the pending government funding battle. But now it may. Just days ago, Trump declared he would yank subsidies known as “cost-sharing reductions,” or CSR’s, from ObamaCare programs. The government directs the CSR payments to insurers who grant coverage to low-income people. A dried-up subsidy could force insurers to drop ObamaCare and spike premiums for the poor.

Trump views the ObamaCare subsidies as leverage to force Democrats to the table on health care. Democrats contend the president is holding the health care assistance “hostage” and imperiling those who aren’t well off. Trump has engaged with few Democrats since taking office on addressing ObamaCare or funding the government. Those who lose coverage (many of whom backed the president last fall) will know precisely who forced them to lose coverage should Trump successfully strip the subsidy. Still, there’s no better place to withdraw the subsidies than in the upcoming spending bill. One would think the president would drop the CSR’s in this spending bill if he’s serious about the new policy.

But that is a poison pill. Republicans may love the idea. However, it torpedoes any notion that Democrats might support the spending package.

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