This week: Congress takes step toward ObamaCare repeal
© Greg Nash

Congress will be focused on the effort to undo President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment in the last full week of his term.

Senate Republicans will lay the groundwork this week for repealing ObamaCare, despite deep uncertainty about what comes next.

GOP leadership has little room for error to clear the repeal guidelines, which are attached to a shell budget resolution, through the upper chamber.

Republicans have a 52-seat majority and will need 50 votes to pass the rules. No Democrat is expected to support the repeal effort, meaning Republicans can only afford to lose two GOP senators and still pass the measure.

Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulDems blast Trump plans for deep spending cuts Trump team prepares dramatic cuts Paul, Lee call on Trump to work with Congress on foreign policy MORE (R-Ky.) this week became the first Republican to say he would not support the budget resolution because it doesn't balance.

"I was told again and again, swallow it, take it, they're just numbers," he said from the Senate floor. "If the numbers don't matter ... why don't we put in numbers that balance?"

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The Senate will vote on Monday evening on an alternative budget from Paul that balances over five years, though that provision is expected to fall short.

A small but growing number of Republicans, including Paul, are also raising concerns about the plan to repeal ObamaCare without a replacement plan hashed out.

"I think we need a detailed framework that tells the American people, including those who depend on the Affordable Care Act for their coverage, and the insurance industry ... what direction we're headed," Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP rep faces testy crowd at constituent meeting over ObamaCare DeVos vows to be advocate for 'great' public schools GOP senators introducing ObamaCare replacement Monday MORE told The Hill.

In addition to Collins and Paul, GOP Sens. Tom CottonTom CottonGOP, Dems hear different things from Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report GOP senator: Obama is ‘a good role model’ MORE (Ark.) and Bob CorkerBob CorkerHaley ready for UN role despite dearth of foreign policy experience Top Dem: Don’t bring Tillerson floor vote if he doesn’t pass committee Trump’s UN pick threads needle on Russia, NATO MORE (Tenn.) have also endorsed repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act simultaneously.

Republicans are still trying to figure out when the repeal measure and eventual replacement would take effect.

They’re partly holding out on specifics at this point because they want to see Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), confirmed first.

“Part of it’s going to take careful coordination with the secretary of HHS which is another [reason] we need to get him [confirmed],” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP eyes new push to break up California court Senate confirms first nominees of Trump era The new Washington elite schmoozes over lunch MORE (R-Texas) told reporters about a replacement.

There also early signs of conflict between the House and the Senate on ObamaCare repeal. Cornyn has signaled that the Senate is eyeing a multi-year “off ramp” to delay replacement, but House conservatives have said they want a year.

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanMeet Trump's secret weapon on infrastructure Here comes Trump-o-nomics GOP waiting to hear from Trump on ObamaCare MORE (R-Wis.) also pledged that the House repeal bill will defund Planned Parenthood, which could spark backlash from moderate Senate Republicans.

Collins and Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiWhat we learned from Rick Perry's confirmation hearing Perry regrets saying he would abolish Energy Department Trump education pick to face Warren, Sanders MORE (R-Alaska) previously tried to strip a provision nixing federal funding for the organization from the Senate’s 2015 repeal bill.

Confirmation fights

The Senate will kick off a slate of high-profile confirmation fights as President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpZuckerberg moves spark 2020 speculation British military tests tanks in Channel tunnel: report San Antonio Spurs coach on Trump: 'Can't believe anything that comes out of his mouth' MORE’s nominees head to Capitol Hill.

Republicans have scheduled hearings for eight of the real estate mogul’s picks, including Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsFranken emerges as liberal force in hearings Five worries for tech under Trump The new Washington elite schmoozes over lunch MORE to be attorney general and Rex Tillerson to be secretary of State.

Democrats are pledging to use the public sessions to vet the nominees on a myriad of issues, including their financial ties and potential conflicts of interest.

“Trump has so many real estate holdings and so much wealth it raises a lot of questions about conflicts of interest,” said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinJustice requires higher standard than Sessions Warren burns Mnuchin over failure to disclose assets Trump Treasury pick to defend foreclosure record MORE (D-Ill.). “He’s chosen people like his prospective secretary of State who also has a great deal of wealth, his secretary of Education same story. So potential conflicts of interest are out there.”

But Democrats face an uphill battle to block any of the picks. Under a 2013 decision, led by former Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidFranken emerges as liberal force in hearings GOP eyes new push to break up California court The DC bubble is strangling the DNC MORE (D-Nev.), Republicans only need 50 votes to clear the Cabinet nominees through the upper chamber.

Republicans have defended the jam-packed schedule, noting President Obama got seven nominees confirmed on the first day of his administration in 2009.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMeet Trump's secret weapon on infrastructure Senate confirms first nominees of Trump era The new Washington elite schmoozes over lunch MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters this week that his priority is getting Trump’s national security team ready to go.

“I think it would be great if the Democrats would understand that particularly with regard to the national security team, the secretary of Defense, CIA, Homeland Security, it would make a lot of sense to have those folks in place on day one,” he said.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), John Kelly and James Mattis—Trump’s picks to lead the CIA, Department of Homeland Security and Pentagon, respectively—are each scheduled to get confirmation hearings this week.

Regulatory reform

The House is slated to consider a package of six bills this week to scale back federal regulations, after passing two measures last week giving Congress the power to more easily reject major rules and eliminate new ones made late in the Obama administration.

Measures on the docket would require agencies to choose the lower-cost rulemaking alternative when issuing new regulations; mandate courts to defer to an agency’s interpretation of a law when ambiguously worded rules are challenged; automatically delay rules that cost more than $1 billion annually; and force agencies to publish plain-English summaries of newly proposed rules.

Republicans are prioritizing regulatory reform in anticipation of Trump’s inauguration next week.

“We are not losing any time getting started on this,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteGOP eyes new push to break up California court Schumer: GOP 'filling the swamp' by targeting ethics chief Justice, FBI to be investigated over Clinton probes MORE (R-Va.) said.