GOP eyes Dem help on ObamaCare

House Republicans will bring three bills to the floor for votes this week that would expand religious and military exemptions under ObamaCare.

And for a change, Republicans are expecting significant help from Democrats to pass the legislation.

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GOP leaders are treating the three ObamaCare bills as "suspension" legislation, which means they will get a shorter debate and must pass with a two-thirds majority vote. That's a sign Republicans believe they have enough support from Democrats to pass the bills.

The move is a departure from the standard GOP tactic, which is to call up ObamaCare legislation under regular order and pass it with a simple majority. In most cases, Republican leaders are forced into that decision because most Democrats have opposed attempts to tweak the health law.

This week is different, however, because the bills under consideration are a far cry from the full or partial repeal legislation House leaders have called up before, and each has attracted at least some degree of bipartisan support. That gives them a chance of passing the House with bipartisan momentum.

One bill dealing with religious exemptions under the healthcare law seems sure to pass: the Equitable Access to Care and Health (EACH) Act, H.R. 1814. This bill from, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), has 216 co-sponsors, including 78 Democrats, so a two-thirds majority seems to be in reach.

The legislation would create a new exemption under ObamaCare that lets people avoid buying health insurance if they have a religious reason for doing so. The bill would require these people to file an affidavit as part of their tax returns saying their beliefs keep them from buying insurance that meets federal standards.

"It is imperative we expand the religious conscience exemption now as the administration is already developing a process to verify the various exemptions to the individual mandate," the co-sponsors of the bill wrote in a letter last year.

The relationship between religion and ObamaCare has come up before, most notably in the ruling from the Obama administration that religious-affiliated organizations must provide health insurance that covers contraception. The EACH Act, however, is unrelated to that issue and deals only with exemptions from the requirement that people buy health insurance under the law.

Another bill with broad bipartisan support is the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, H.R. 3979. This bill would ensure that volunteer emergency responders are not required to be offered health insurance under the law.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), says the bill is needed because the Internal Revenue Service at first indicated it would require these volunteer workers to be given insurance. Many organizations have said this would be too expensive, and most volunteers aren't looking for insurance.

This bill has 106 co-sponsors, including 15 Democrats.

The third suspension bill is the Hire More Heroes Act, H.R. 3474. It would create an incentive for companies to hire veterans, since veteran workers already covered by the federal veterans health program would not have to be counted as a full-time employee for the purposes of ObamaCare.

That exemption could help companies avoid the employer mandate, or the requirement to offer health plans once they have 50 or more employees.

"The Hire More Heroes Act gives our small businesses another incentive to hire veterans, which helps to address the increasing number of unemployed veterans, while providing them with some relief from ObamaCare," Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said of his bill in November.

Legislation aiding veterans is normally popular, so Davis's bill could also pass in a two-thirds vote. As of Monday, however, the bill had just 26 co-sponsors, two of them Democrats: Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) and Dan Lipinski (Ill.).

The three suspension bills are expected to get debate and a vote on Tuesday and will be followed up on Friday by consideration of a major bill that would delay ObamaCare's individual mandate and patch up Medicare's physician payment formula. But that bill is not a suspension bill, and there were signs last week that most Democrats will oppose it.

Also this week, Republicans are scheduled to call up another health-related bill: the Keep the Promise to Seniors Act, H.R. 4160. This bill from Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) is a response to the Obama administration's effort to rewrite rules on the operation of Medicare Part D.

Republicans say the new rules would lead to higher costs and eliminate some drugs now available under Part D, including drugs used to treat depression.

"The administration's 700-page rule is a complete assault on this program and would remove the free market mechanisms that have made it work," Ellmers said last week. "This widely successful and popular program has provided our seniors with options, choices and an affordable way to purchase prescription drugs."

However, the Obama administration on Monday announced it would no longer proceed with the Part D rule change. That could prompt Republicans to decide to pull the bill or alter it.

As of Monday, GOP leaders were prepared to treat this as a suspension bill, but it's not clear how many Democrats might support it. The bill was proposed last week and has no Republican or Democratic co-sponsors.