Conservatives worry budget bill could hinder their attempt to defund health law

Conservative Republicans are worried that Democrats could use the lame-duck session to disable one of their most potent weapons against the healthcare reform law.

When lawmakers return this week for the lame-duck session, they'll have to decide on a budget to keep the government's doors open until next year. Democrats could try to pass an omnibus spending bill that funds the healthcare reform bill into the future, making it more difficult for House Republicans to starve the law of cash when they're in the majority next year.

ADVERTISEMENT
"Our primary concern is an omnibus appropriation bill would create unencumbered budget authority for the major agencies and programs that are authorized by [the health reform] bill," Phil Kerpen of the conservative nonprofit Americans for Prosperity tells The Hill. "Therefore policy riders next year would be relatively ineffectual, because even if Republicans zero out funding for moving forward on a lot of these things, funding would still be available under existing budget authority from the omnibus.

"So we're urging a clean continuing resolution so that the defunding debate can take place in a meaningful way next year."

Democrats have yet to map out their strategy for the budget appropriations.

Americans for Prosperity will make its case during a "November Speaks" event Monday on Capitol Hill. Expected speakers include several Tea Party favorites, including Republican Reps. Mike Pence (Ind.) and Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and congressmen-elect Morgan Griffith (Va.), Frank Guinta (N.H.) and Sean Duffy (Wis.)

House Republicans have already announced they'll do everything in their power to start nipping away at the law: offer bills to eliminate parts of it, cut funding for federal regulators and hold hearings to publicize what they say are its most unsavory aspects.

"There’s a lot of tricks up our sleeves in terms of how we can dent this, kick it, slow it down to make sure it never happens," presumed House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio recently told Fox News.

Defunding is seen as one of the prime vehicles for getting the tangible results conservative voters want to see. Repealing the whole bill won't fly in the Senate or survive the president's veto, and even partial repeal could cost billions of dollars that would have to be offset.

But the bill is ripe for a defunding strategy because it contains billions of dollars in authorized spending that needs to be appropriated each year. Democrats may have trouble explaining all those provisions to the public on a case-by-case basis, and many make ripe targets as the government seeks to slash the deficit.

The Congressional Budget Office has identified more than $50 billion in specific spending authorizations over the next 10 years. For 2011, these include $3.862 billion for Federally Qualified Health Centers; $100 million in grants to states to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare; and $128 million for primary care training.

And that doesn't include billions more for programs that don't have a specific dollar amount — just a request for "such sums as may be necessary."

More in Health reform implementation

ObamaCare fines loom for uninsured

Read more »