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 PaulTrump: 'No doubt' we'll make a deal on healthcare Overnight Defense: General says US strike probably led to civilian deaths | Tillerson to push NATO on spending | Trump taps F-35 chief Senate backs Montenegro's NATO membership 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 CollinsSenate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight Overnight Finance: WH wants to slash billions | Border wall funding likely on hold | Wells Fargo to pay 0M over unauthorized accounts | Dems debate revamping consumer board Lawmakers call for pilot program to test for energy sector vulnerabilities MORE told The Hill.

In addition to Collins and Paul, GOP Sens. Tom CottonTom CottonCotton: House 'moved a bit too fast' on healthcare Sunday shows preview: Aftermath of failed healthcare bill Senators introduce new Iran sanctions MORE (Ark.) and Bob CorkerBob CorkerState Dept. to remove human rights conditions of Bahrain jet deal: report Senate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight Senate takes up NATO membership for Montenegro 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 CornynTexas Dem targets Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 Senate Dems: Border wall is a budget 'poison pill' Senate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight 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 RyanBlack Caucus calls on Ryan to remove Nunes as Intel Committee chair Governing means supporting AHCA Overnight Healthcare: Insurers face big choice on staying in ObamaCare | HHS chief Price grilled over budget cuts 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 MurkowskiElle honors 10 at annual 'Women in Washington' event Five takeaways from Labor pick’s confirmation hearing ObamaCare repeal faces last obstacle before House vote 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 TrumpFederal judge extends order blocking Trump's revised travel ban Texas Dem targets Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 Budowsky: Putin’s KGB super PAC MORE’s nominees head to Capitol Hill.

Republicans have scheduled hearings for eight of the real estate mogul’s picks, including Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsFiorina calls for special prosecutor for Russia probe The Hill's 12:30 Report Dem rep: Sanctuary cities are actually ‘Fourth Amendment cities’ 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 DurbinRepublicans seek to lower odds of a shutdown No. 2 Senate Democrat opposes Trump's Supreme Court pick The Hill’s Whip List: 32 Dems are against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee 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 ReidRepublican failure Senate about to enter 'nuclear option' death spiral Top GOP senator: 'Tragic mistake' if Democrats try to block Gorsuch 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 McConnellThe truth is the latest casualty of today’s brand of politics McCain and Graham: We won't back short-term government funding bill Senate seen as starting point for Trump’s infrastructure plan 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 GoodlatteMoving Copyright Office authorities to executive branch could improve accountability Register of copyrights should be presidential appointee Week ahead: Senate takes aim at Obama-era 'blacklisting' rule MORE (R-Va.) said.