WASHINGTON -- Republicans pulling on the budget thread can't neatly unravel President Barack Obama's health care law.
A partial government shutdown next week would leave the major parts of the law in place and rolling along, according to former Democratic and Republican budget officials, as well as the Obama administration itself. Health care markets for the uninsured would open as scheduled on Tuesday.
Deleting the money to implement the law, the GOP's dream scenario, would indeed cripple "Obamacare." But that's much less likely to happen than a government shutdown. Obama wouldn't allow the ruin of his hard-fought namesake legislation.
Part of the reason a shutdown wouldn't stop the health care law is that government doesn't grind to a halt. National defense, law enforcement, air traffic control and other activities involving the safety of human life and the protection of property continue.
Ditto for big entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, whose "mandatory" funding does not have to be renewed annually by Congress. The Affordable Care Act is the newest addition to that club of budget heavyweights.
The employees who administer such programs may also be considered essential. During the Clinton-era shutdowns, Social Security brought back nearly 50,000 employees to handle claims work after initially giving them furloughs.
"Many of the core parts of the health care law are funded through mandatory appropriations and wouldn't be affected," Gary Cohen, the Health and Human Services Department official overseeing the health care rollout, told reporters this week.
Translation: Obamacare' s good to go.
That's pretty much how a former top GOP congressional budget expert sees it too. "A government shutdown, absent any legislation, does not fundamentally alter the Affordable Care Act," said Bill Hoagland, now a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, an advocacy group that's trying to bridge the political divide in Washington.
Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, chief economic adviser to 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, concurs. "As a policy matter, it won't succeed in stopping Obamacare," he said of a government shutdown. "We have put much of the government on cruise control."