The ongoing U.S. Government shutdown could have been avoided, U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) said Friday, had Democrats been willing to negotiate some aspects of the Affordable Care Act he views as unfair.
“It should never have happened. I was frustrated it got to this point,” Denham said.
The U.S. Government has been shut down since Oct. 1, save for essential services. Benefits like Social Security and Medicare will continue despite the shutdown, as will health, national defense, and homeland security operations.
The shutdown comes as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refuses to pass a government funding bill which includes funding for the Affordable Care Act, oftentimes referred to as Obamacare. The Democrat-majority U.S. Senate refuses to sign a funding bill into law which does not fund the ACA, creating an impasse.
The Republicans hope to negotiate a solution, while the Democrats have no intention of debating an issue which was previously passed into law by Congress, and has been confirmed as constitutional by the Supreme Court.
“We want to negotiate. We want a solution. But we have some serious challenges going forward,” Denham said.
It comes down to an issue of fairness, Denham said. He and other House Republicans want the ACA to be applied equally to all.
Members of Congress, congressional staffers, and those in the White House should all be subject to the same ACA rules as everyone else, Denham said. Currently, members of Congress may use an employer contribution to pay for the costs of ACA insurance exchange plans; average citizens may not. Members of Congress may also choose only to purchase plans at the “Gold” level of coverage.
And rather than only certain employers receiving a one-year deferment from the ACA implementation, beneficiaries Denham criticizes as hand-picked by President Barack Obama, Denham says all should receive that deferment. The Obama administration delayed the implementation of the employer mandate, which requires firms with 50 or more employees to offer health coverage, until 2015, but Americans are still required to purchase insurance starting in 2014.
“We're not defunding it,” Denham said. “We're not trying to kill it. All we're trying to do is raise in issue of fairness.”
Obama has said he is open to negotiations, but that he will not negotiate while House Republicans effectively hold the government hostage.
“I'm happy to have negotiations,” Obama said. “We can't do it with a gun held to the head of the American people.”
Denham says he believes that, at some point, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) will decide to negotiate. The shutdown will likely continue until that point, he said.
According to numerous media outlets, there are currently enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass a so-called “clean” continuing resolution, abandoning the fight over the ACA and allowing the government to resume doing business. However, the Speaker of the House John Boehner (R), has yet to allow a vote on the measure.
Denham said that if a clean continuing resolution were to come for a vote, he would vote against it. The nation's problems are too big for that, he said, noting that Congress has not passed a budget in five years.
“We have to fix the problem,” Denham said.
In the meantime, Denham and the House of Representatives, which must introduce all funding bills, have supported bills to restore funding to National Parks, the National Institute of Health, the Washington D.C. government, and food assistance programs.
Denham says he will continue to be involved in the debate, offering ideas on amendments to keep the government operating. He will remain in Washington, D.C. over the weekend, foregoing his usual trip back to Stanislaus County to see his family.
In addition, Denham is trying to pick up the slack for his furloughed staff, answering phones himself to make sure the job gets done. He is also working with schools and constituents in Washington D.C. to arrange tours of monuments and the U.S. Capitol despite the shutdown; a Turlock Christian group will be touring the Capitol today because of Denham's efforts.
Denham has requested his pay be withheld throughout the government shutdown, and that he be treated “as every other federal employee.”