Even if the government were to temporarily close down later this year, ObamaCare would still live on, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.
The nonpartisan government agency said this week that even if lawmakers fail to pass legislation to fund the government, it would not prevent the bulk of the Affordable Care Act from taking effect. Some conservative Republican lawmakers have floated the idea of a government shutdown as a way to block the law and force President Obama to ultimately scrap it.
"It appears that substantial ACA implementation might continue during a lapse in annual appropriations that resulted in a temporary government shutdown," the report said.
That's primarily due to two factors. First, the government can keep spending during a shutdown using "no-year discretionary funds" and reserves set aside for mandatory expenditures. The ACA specifically set aside billions of dollars for its own implementation that won't be touched by a shutdown.
Second, the report said ObamaCare could fall under one of the limited exceptions in which the government is allowed to allocate funds in lieu of a spending bill from Congress.
In short, the White House would have the money and the power to keep the ACA up and running even if the lights go dark in Washington.
Plus, the centerpiece of the law, the individual mandate, would be completely unaffected by a government shutdown because it's a tax, not a line item expenditure. Though it's tempting to wish that taxes would cease to exist while lawmakers squabble over a budget, that's just not how the government works, the report said.
"If a government shutdown were to occur during calendar year 2014, the lapse in funding would not automatically suspend the requirement of the individual mandate," the report explained. "In other words, during the time period that the government is shut down, taxpayers who fall within the coverage of the individual mandate would still be accruing penalties for any months in which they lacked minimum essential coverage."
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is trying to rally others in his party to refuse to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government unless that bill cuts off funding for ObamaCare. Even if such a bill made it to Obama's desk, the president, barring a stunning change of heart over his signature domestic policy achievement, would certainly veto it.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who has been critical of such a gambit, requested the CRS report and then made it publicly available Tuesday.
"I'd be leading the charge if I thought this would work," Coburn told the Washington Examiner last week of the defunding drive. "But it will not work."
Still, the very fact that Republicans needed to be convinced not to purposefully shut down the government, once considered an extreme measure, was seen as further evidence of systemic dysfunction in the ruling class.
I can't believe Republicans are really having to talk themselves out of shutting down the government over Obamacare
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) July 30, 2013
And the report is unlikely to end the GOP's internal debate over shutting down the government. On Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who like Lee is a Tea Party stalwart, insisted a shutdown wouldn't be bad for the party, adding, "If there is ever a time to defeat ObamaCare, it is now."