Obama Threatens Senate Democrats: He'll Shut Gov't If They Delay Obamacare

September 29, 2013 - 1:59 PM

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama is threatening Senate Democrats that if they approve a continuing resolution to fund the government past Monday that also delays Obamacare for one year, he will veto that resolution and shut down the government.

That President Obama issued a veto threat against such a CR on Saturday evening—before the Republican-controlled House voted to approve an amended CR that would delay Obamacare--has been widely reported. That this veto threat by its very nature was targeted at Senate Democrats has not been.

Obama’s threat to shut down the government by vetoing a CR that delays Obamacare is aimed at Senate Democrats because the only way a CR of that nature could get to Obama’s desk—where he would have an opportunity to actually veto it—is if enough Senate Democrats agreed to vote for such a CR and send it on to Obama.

In fact, on Saturday, before the Republican-controlled House voted on the amended CR, the White House publicly indicated it believed that House approval of the amended CR was a foregone conclusion. White House Spokesman Jay Carney put out a statement well before the House vote, assuming its outcome was a fait accompli.

"Today Republicans in the House of Representatives moved to shut down the government,” said the first sentence of Carney's pre-House-vote statement.

A few sentences later in the same statement, Carney indicated that the House vote on the amended CR, whose outcome he presumed, had not yet occurred. “Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown,” he said.

In this Saturday statement, Carney did not issue a veto threat from the president. It was only later on Saturday, at 5:50 p.m. Eastern time--during a Rules Committee hearing--that Rep. Louise Slaughter (D.-N.Y.), the ranking member of that committee, read a statement from the administration flatly stating the president would veto a CR like the one the House was prepared to pass later that evening to fund the government but delay Obamacare.

“If the president was presented with H.J.Res. 59 as amended by the amendments, he would veto the bill,” said Slaughter, reading from the administration’s statement.

With this veto threat, Obama was not targeting the House Republicans whom the White House had already assumed—correctly—would vote to pass the Obamacare-delaying CR their leadership was set to bring up for a vote. Obama was aiming his threat at Democrats in the Senate, who control that chamber 54 to 46. Without the support of some Senate Democrats, it would not matter how many times the House passed a CR delaying Obamacare, it would never get to Obama’s desk--where his veto pen resides.

The only way to test whether Obama has the nerve to actually carry out that veto threat is for enough Senate Democrats to call his bluff and send an Obamacare-delaying CR to the president’s desk.

Tellingly, when Rep. Jim McGovern (R.-Mass.) repeated Obama’s veto threat during the House Rules Committee hearing on Saturday evening where Rep. Slaughter first announced it, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R.-Ky.) asked McGovern of Obama’s threat: "He’s drawn a red line has he?"

When McGovern said, “Yep,” the hearing room—largely filled with members of Congress and their staff--burst out in spontaneous laughter. These Washington insiders apparently think the idea of Obama drawing another “red line” is risible.

The last time Obama drew a “red line” it was to stop the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Asad from using chemical weapons. This time it is to stop senators of his own party from voting to delay Obamacare.