White House Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell rejected delaying the health-care law as a way to get a budget deal with Congress and voiced optimism that talks with lawmakers would avoid a government shutdown.
A demand by more than 90 Republican lawmakers to withhold funds for carrying out the law set to take effect Jan. 1 has drawn fire from other party members. An alternative some Republicans are considering would delay implementing the law for a year as part of a deal on 2014 government spending and raising the U.S. debt ceiling.
The Obama administration is “not interested at all in delaying what we believe is bringing people onto health care and continuing a path of reducing costs” of medical care, said Burwell, who directs the Office of Management and Budget.
The Affordable Care Act “is a law that has been passed, it is a law that has been upheld by the Supreme Court,” she said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. Lawmakers should instead talk about “whether or not you want to prevent” people from starting to sign up Oct. 1 on exchanges to purchase health-care insurance, Burwell said.
“I am not sure why the conversations are about things like a shutdown,” she said. Still, some Republicans’ demands to use must-pass legislation to keep the government operating after Sept. 30 as leverage to delay the health-care law won’t create a budget crisis, she said.
“We’re very hopeful that we can avoid a shutdown,” Burwell said.
Obama, who wants to replace automatic spending cuts known as sequestration with other reductions, will oppose efforts by House Republicans to spare further cutbacks in defense outlays at the expense of domestic programs, such as education, Burwell said. “The president has been clear on that point.”
The cuts of about $1 trillion over the next decade were designed by Congress to be equally divided between defense and other domestic, discretionary programs such Head Start for preschool children.
The cuts were included in deficit-reduction legislation Congress passed in 2011 that extended the government’s borrowing authority, which is projected to again run out before year’s end.
“What we need to do is fix both parts” Burwell said of proposals to replace automatic cuts with other spending reductions. “If one is going to fix defense, one also has to fix the non-defense monies.”
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has repeatedly told reporters and colleagues that the sequester will remain in effect until Obama proposes a package of cuts to replace it.
Burwell said the president’s proposal in his 2014 budget plan “would both replace sequester, have additional deficit reduction” and “make investments in things like infrastructure.”
So far, Republicans in Congress aren’t biting, she said.
The administration has “tried to have conversations about that,” with Republicans, she said. “We’re looking for someone to counter that proposal and have not had that yet.”
Burwell has been participating with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough in discussions with a group of Senate Republicans on ways to end the budget stalemate.
Asked if she were amenable to a shorter replacement of automatic cuts, for a year or two, Burwell said “the question is how one would go about doing that.” The administration “would like to see the substance of that,” yet “no one has presented us with that.”
When she isn’t focused on the budget and spending, Burwell said another part of her portfolio is “development of a second-term management agenda.” OMB is examining how to make the government more efficient and is finding ways to “use management to help government be a part of stimulating the economy.”
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