Despite insisting two months ago that it would not work, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said Thursday he voted with Republican House members to defund portions of the Affordable Care Act, which contributed to a 16-day government shutdown at an estimated $24 bill ion loss to the U.S. economy, knowing that the measure was likely to fail.
“I feel like, people say the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, but that doesn’t mean we should just accept it and let it keep us away from the goal of passing a balanced budget,” the three-term congressman said during a conference call Thursday with members of the media.
But a month before his Sept. 20 vote to strip funding for the three-year-old health care law from a continuing resolution passed by the Senate, Roe told the Johnson City Press that, because part of the law, commonly referred to as Obamacare, is funded by mandatory spending, any efforts to defund it would simply not work.
“It’s nigh on impossible,” he said during the Aug. 14 meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board. “It’s an easy talking point, but it’s not that simple, because of the way the law was written. We’d have to vote to change the entire law.”
The Republican 1st Congressional District representative’s insistence on tacking on limits to the continuing resolution resulted in the stalemate between the two houses that led to the shutdown of non-essential federal services and employees, including pay for hundreds of thousands of federal workers and funding for national parks.
The deal reached late Wednesday, which Roe voted against, funds those services and employees and provides back-pay for the federal workers. Losses in tourism dollars, contractor wages and government services, however, likely will not be recovered.
Financial rating firm Standard & Poor’s estimated the government’s 16 days of furlough cost $24 billion and reduced projected fourth-quarter GDP growth from 3 percent to 2.4 percent.
“I understood the hill was high, the stakes were high,” Roe said. “Again, it was important to keep the vision on the ultimate goal of balancing the budget.”
Roe said he was concerned the cost of the health care law would inevitably cost more than initial projections and result in increased federal spending.
Like his projection on the impossibility of altering the Affordable Care Act’s funding, Roe’s August predictions regarding the imminent passage of an increase to the federal government’s debt ceiling also came true, despite his vote against it.
“The debt ceiling will be raised,” he said two months ago. “People will huff and puff, but it will be raised. We raised it in 2011 with the Budget Control Act that brought us the sequester.
“The sequester was a meat cleaver,” he continued. “There was a better way to do it, but the sequester is what we ended up with.”
On Thursday, Roe praised the $85.3 billion in 2013 budget cuts enacted by the sequester, which was passed as a similar last-minute debt ceiling deal two years ago.
“The Budget Control Act has created an environment where we’ve made absolutely real cuts,” he said. “For the first time since the Korean War, federal spending has gone down two years in a row.”
From 2014 to 2021, the sequestration will continue to cut $109.3 billion annually, either in across-the-board reductions or targeted cuts, whichever Congress specifies.
Roe said lawmakers missed an opportunity this week to use the looming debt ceiling crisis to enact additional reductions.
“With our current revenues, we could balance the federal budget if we keep the growth rate of spending at 3 percent,” he said.
Roe denounced Congress’ reliance on continuing resolutions to fund the government instead of passing appropriations bills, as congressional rules intend, and laid the responsibility for the shutdown on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“We sent four appropriations bills to the Senate,” he said. “Those bills had been passed, and they were sitting on Harry Reid’s desk, and he didn’t allow a vote on it.
“None of that would have mattered if we’d gone through regular order,” he said. “It’s worked for 200-plus years. If there were programs that needed to be changed, appropriations allow both parties to look at the budget and find something they can agree on.”
Shortly before the continuing resolution debate, a party-line vote in the House changed the rules governing who could bring a measure to a vote. The rule change stripped the regular House members of their powers and gave Majority Leader Eric Cantor the sole ability to introduce a resolution on the floor.
Cantor refused to pose a continuing resolution without changes to ACA funding, even as House members asked him to do so and insisted a “clean” resolution would pass and end the shutdown.
Roe said he doubts the next government funding deadline of Jan. 15 will result in another shutdown, but said Republicans still intend to pursue changes to the Affordable Care Act.
“Hope we don’t go up to midnight, but I wouldn’t hold my breath to say it won’t,” he said.
A statement he issued shortly after the House passed the measure to reopen the government Wednesday generated more than 100 comments debating the merits of his decision in an article posted on a JohnsonCityPress.com.