Obamacare looms large in shutdown fight

A bigger Obamacare penalty in 2016 than you think
A bigger Obamacare penalty in 2016 than you think

One last-minute sticking point in the end-of-year spending fight on Capitol Hill involves a complex collision of money, symbolism, Obamacare and presidential politics.

Republicans, who have long sought to undermine President Barack Obama's health-care law, have lately gained momentum and Democratic allies (including Hillary Clinton and labor unions) for their effort to repeal the so-called "Cadillac tax" on high-value health plans. They've been moving toward passage of a repeal of that tax, a symbolic step Obama would surely veto.

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The White House, for its part, has been dismayed by another effort to chip away at the Affordable Care Act that became law last year. It curtailed spending on so-called risk corridors, a provision of the ACA that subsidized insurance companies for losses resulting from the mix of customers they attracted as the health-care marketplaces called exchanges got off the ground. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who sponsored that measure, has boasted about undercutting Obamacare in his 2016 presidential campaign.

Now quiet talks are underway in the congressional debate over a year-end spending bill for a compromise. If it materializes sometime in the next 48 hours or so, the White House and its Democratic allies in Congress could accept a delay in the Cadillac tax, rather than repeal. Republicans in turn might allow additional spending on risk corridors.

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Such a deal wouldn't fully satisfy anyone and would undercut a campaign theme of a major Republican candidate for president. But it might become part of a package that would let Congress head home for the holidays while avoiding a government shutdown.