ObamaCare spared in fiscal deal

A government shutdown once touted as the "last, best chance" to fight ObamaCare is set to end with hardly any changes to the law. 

Although the shutdown originated as a GOP plan to force President Obama to defund his signature legislation, Republicans came away without any substantive changes to ObamaCare.

The agreement that Senate leaders announced Wednesday includes only one ObamaCare provision, lawmakers said. It requires more rigorous income verification when people apply for new tax subsidies to help cover the cost of their premiums.

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The healthcare law already includes verification requirements, although the Obama administration has delayed one part of the process for certain applicants.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who led the push for a shutdown over ObamaCare, slammed the Senate deal after a caucus meeting Wednesday morning. The agreement "provides no relief to the millions of Americans suffering from ObamaCare," Cruz said.

Yet he also said he rejected the premise that conservatives came away with nothing after pushing the government into a shutdown over ObamaCare.

Cruz said the "American people rose up" and rejected the healthcare law, and he praised the House for embracing the shutdown.

"That was a remarkable victory, to see the House engage in a profile in courage," Cruz said.

The House passed several spending bills that would have delayed or dismantled parts of the healthcare law, including its individual mandate. All of those measures died in the Senate, and serious blows to ObamaCare were not on the table during the Senate's negotiations.

In addition to ending up with a final deal that preserves ObamaCare, Republicans spent two weeks on a fiscal fight that drowned out the very real problems ObamaCare experienced as its new insurance exchanges came online.

Support for the GOP hit a record low in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released last week, while approval of the healthcare law reached 38 percent — a seven-point increase over last month's poll, despite the technical problems that plagued the rollout of the law's exchanges.

Several Republicans who initially opposed the shutdown strategy have said the fiscal fight represents a major missed opportunity on ObamaCare.

"Our numbers have gone down," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Wednesday. "ObamaCare's somehow have mysteriously gone up. And other than that, this has been great."

— Bernie Becker contributed

This story was updated at 2:32 p.m.