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 PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP senator asks to be taken off Moore fundraising appeals Red state lawmakers find blue state piggy bank Prosecutors tell Paul to expect federal charges against attacker: report 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 Margaret CollinsBipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program A bipartisan bridge opens between the House and Senate Gaming the odds of any GOP tax bill getting signed into law MORE told The Hill.

In addition to Collins and Paul, GOP Sens. Tom CottonTom CottonOvernight Finance: GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few no votes | Highlights from day two of markup | House votes to overturn joint-employer rule | Senate panel approves North Korean banking sanctions GOP senator: CBO moving the goalposts on ObamaCare mandate Cruz: It’s a mistake for House bill to raise taxes MORE (Ark.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTax Foundation: Senate reform bill would cost 6B GOP senators raise concerns over tax plan Dem House candidate apologizes for saying it 'shouldn't take brain cancer' for McCain to show courage 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 CornynAfter Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Overnight Defense: Lawmakers question military's lapse after Texas shooting | Trump asks North Korea to 'make a deal' | Senate panel approves Army pick Overnight Regulation: House passes bill to overturn joint-employer rule | Trump officials to allow work requirements for Medicaid | Lawmakers 'alarmed' by EPA's science board changes 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 RyanGOP rep: Virginia defeat 'a referendum' on Trump administration After Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Pence: Praying 'takes nothing away' from trying to figure out causes behind mass shooting 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 Ann MurkowskiMoore digs in amid mounting GOP criticism Republicans float pushing back Alabama special election Moore defends himself as pressure mounts 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 John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE’s nominees head to Capitol Hill.

Republicans have scheduled hearings for eight of the real estate mogul’s picks, including Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsCurtis wins Chaffetz's former Utah House seat Overnight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny FBI can’t unlock Texas shooter’s phone 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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDems mull big changes after Brazile bombshell After Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Bipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program 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 ReidTop Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor GOP in uncharted territory rolling back rules through resolutions 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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell expects Paul to return to Senate next week Former Hill staff calls for mandatory harassment training Gaming the odds of any GOP tax bill getting signed into law 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 GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteJuan Williams: The shame of Trump's enablers GOP bill would ban abortions when heartbeat is detected Overnight Regulation: GOP flexes power over consumer agency | Trump lets states expand drone use | Senate panel advances controversial EPA pick | House passes bill to curb 'sue-and-settle' regs MORE (R-Va.) said.