ACA emerges intact from federal budget battle

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WASHINGTON — The Affordable Care Act emerged relatively unscathed from the bruising budget battle as Republicans in the House of Representatives buckled and a compromise proposal approved in both the Senate and House was signed by President Obama.

The resolution ended a budget crisis that triggered a 16-day federal government shutdown that cost the economy billions and drew criticism and warnings from other ­governments.

Although the budget bill that was passed incorporates a slight tightening of income verification rules for Americans accessing the new health insurance exchanges created by the ACA, its passage represents a crushing defeat for Republican conservatives who had sought to defund the health care reform legislation, which was enacted in 2010. And while most House Republicans opposed the bill that was worked out by Senate Democratic and Republican leaders, 87 voted for it, for a final tally of 285 in favor to 144 opposed. The Senate had passed the bill 81 to 18.

Nonetheless, Republican foes of the ACA were unshaken in their opposition. “This law is ravaging our economy, killing jobs, driving up premiums and driving people off the coverage they have, and like, in droves,” railed majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) on the Senate floor. “Refusal to delay it reflects a kind of stubborn ideological obsession.”

However, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicated that the ACA has grown in popularity with the public since the shutdown began. While 43% of respondents still view it as a bad idea, 38% see it as a good idea, up from 31% in a September poll. In addition, 50% said they oppose totally eliminating funding for the law, versus 39% in favor.

Moreover, most Americans (53%) blamed the Republicans for the shutdown, while a whopping 70% accuse the party of putting its own political agenda ahead of the good of the country.

The poll also revealed that the party’s popularity has sunk to an all-time low, with only 24% of respondents voicing a favorable opinion of the GOP. Speaker of the House John Boehner fared poorly as well, with a negative rating of 42% versus only 17% positive. President Obama, on the other hand, emerged with a positive rating of 47% versus a negative count of 41%.

It appears unlikely, however, that the resolution of the standoff is more than temporary, since the bill provides government funding only through January 15, 2014, and suspends a decision on the government debt ceiling until February 7. Some Republican lawmakers have vowed to renew the fight, but one result of their defeat has been to leave the party, at least temporarily, divided and in disarray.

In any case, the government shutdown is estimated to have taken $24 billion out of the U.S. economy, according to financial services firm Standard & Poor’s. S&P furthermore projects that its effects will trim fourth quarter gross domestic product growth to 2.4% from a previous forecast of 3%.

A week before the gridlock was ended on October 16, Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of the National Retail Federation, sent a letter to congressional leaders calling on Congress and the administration to end the impasse.

“We strongly support passage of both a continuing resolution to provide for funding of the federal government into the next fiscal year and a measure to raise the nation’s debt ceiling,” Shay wrote.

He added that the shutdown has negatively impacted consumer spending and pointed to Gallup Poll figures that show consumer confidence at levels as low as in 2008, when the economy collapsed.

“For retailers, who represent the sector of the American economy most closely tied to consumer attitudes, these numbers are deeply disturbing,” Shay wrote.

A lasting decline in consumer confidence, he added, is likely to translate into higher unemployment and slower growth in coming months.”


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