Here's Why Republicans Can't Stop Obamacare — Even If They Shut Down the Government

After midnight, the government will shut down, yet numerous services will stay available to the citizens, including Obamacare, the law that started the fight between the two congressional chambers in the first place. The reason these services will be provided is something called mandatory funding or mandatory spending. Given that the Republicans' least favorite government program in the country will remain intact whether the government shuts down or no, it is unclear why the GOP is leading Congress into a shutdown.

It would be silly to believe that the makers of Obamacare did not anticipate that the resistance from the GOP would be harsh. However, it cannot be said that setting up a mandatory spending program for Obamacare was somehow unprecedented in its cleverness. In fact, well over half of federal spending now goes to programs that are authorized to create their own budgets. In legal terms, such spending is referred to as direct, or mandatory, spending. This mandatory spending refers, in fact, to funds that are automatically assigned to programs by virtue of previously enacted laws.

The programs that are managed under this mandatory spending clause are mainly most of the major entitlement programs, transfer payments, and welfare benefits. Therefore, Obamacare, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are among major entitlement programs, and it is not unusual that their budgets are authorized to run even in the case of government shutdown. Other expenses are mandatory as well, such as salaries of federal judges, unemployment compensation, child nutrition and tax credits, supplemental security for the disabled, student loans, national defense, law enforcement, and other programs that will guarantee the safety of human lives and protection of property.

This authorization for mandatory spending may be permanent and will remain in effect until changed by Congress, but it is not affected by the government shutdown. For Fiscal Year 2014, mandatory spending is estimated to be $2.308 trillion, which sets a new record. Moreover, it is 61% of the total federal budget. The numbers are pretty big, and it is a fact that the mandatory spending can only increase in the future, for two reasons: It is difficult for Members of Congress to vote in favor of cutting benefits, and many of the groups that are beneficiaries of the programs have strong lobbyists.

It is only logical to have all of these programs placed under a mandatory funding clause. This allows them to stay out of the partisan battles fought in Congress. It allocates funds for the normal functioning of the programs that are essential for social security and fulfilling the basic needs of the American citizens.

So, the question remains, why would the GOP go through with a shutdown even though it is not going to affect Obamacare? The only reasonable explanation is that they are hoping for the public reaction that will blame Obama and Democrats for being stubborn. However, recent polls show that they are terribly wrong. Now the Republicans themselves will have to face the public outrage when the federal government services shut down, making them the greatest losers of this unpleasant political theater.

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Marko Ceperkovic

As Policy Advisor at the U.S. House of Representatives Marko is dealing with Foreign Affairs, Defense, Immigration and Human Rights issues. At the same time he is a fellow at Johns Hopkins SAIS, participating in the Aitchison Public Service Fellowship in Government. Before coming to Washington, Marko lived in France, studying at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris. As former Executive Director's Assistant at Helsinki Committee for Human Rights he led Human Rights Schools for Western Balkans, while at the same time presiding over the Commission for Youth Rights in Serbia.

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