By Katie Ni
AMSA Education and Outreach Health Policy Coordinator
After 16 days of government shutdown, Congress finally voted to raise the debt ceiling and reopen federal agencies, with the support of many Republican Congressmen. The government is now being funded through January 15, and federal employees have at last returned to work and have been promised backpay for their days spent at home.
So what’s next? Is all well and good in the United States? Well, the debt limit story is not over, but simply postponed. Enforcement of the debt limit will resume on February 7, 2014, setting the stage for another debt conflict next spring. In the meantime, the shutdown resolution deal created a budget conference committee to hash out a long-term spending plan by December 13. Also, Congress must proactively vote to disapprove extending the debt limit, in contrast to the previous voting structure with votes to raise it. Known as the McConnell Rule, this provision takes the debt limit off the table as a bargaining chip in future negotiations; the only way the debt limit would NOT be increased would be if Congress decides to actively prevent it, and has the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a Presidential veto.
As for the Affordable Care Act, the shutdown was never able to stop the implementation. On October 1st, the health insurance marketplace website Healthcare.gov was made available for residents of 36 states. The release of Healthcare.gov was accompanied by technical difficulties that hampered many users’ efforts to enroll in a plan; these glitches are still being worked out. However, about half a million users have successfully completed applications for insurance plans through the site since October 1st, and the open enrollment period will continue until next March. Congress relaxed the deadline for enrollment as it holds a hearing today for the contractors hired to develop the ACA websites. The Republican-led House will host the hearing scheduled to address the failures of the implementation and develop solutions to prevent problems with future enrollment
While a major crisis has been averted with the ending of the government shutdown, many issues remain, including the budget conference, the debt ceiling, and the full implementation of the ACA. We hope the past month’s events will discourage Congressional stalemates in the future, and encourage bipartisan cooperation that will prevent a repeat shutdown next year.