A promise made to repeal ObamaCare with reconciliation

"There have never been 60 popularly elected Republican senators," Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntOvernight Energy: Officials close in on new global emissions deal 40 senators seek higher biodiesel mandate Top Dem Senate hopefuls to skip convention MORE (R-Mo.) said in 2012 when discussing the prospects of repealing ObamaCare. "So whatever we're able to do legislatively in the Senate, reconciliation becomes really important."

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Blunt wasn't advocating some radical course of action. Less than three years ago, the Republican Party went all-in on using the very same budget process Democrats used to pass ObamaCare to repeal the disastrous law. As Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoGoonies, Pokemon and ‘transsexual shake’ speak to raucous scene at convention GOP passes rules vote over outcry from Trump opponents Overnight Healthcare: Feds defend ObamaCare's affordability MORE (R-Wyo.) noted at the time, "To be able to really repeal this legislation, we need a new president and a new majority in the Senate, just to 51, to use the budget reconciliation process and keep the House."

Even 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney was on board! Yet despite having a solid game plan in hand, Republicans saw ObamaCare fade into the background as Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts undermined what could have been his most effective argument.

Two years later, however, Republicans put ObamaCare at the top of their agenda as they recaptured control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in eight years. At this point, it is worth recalling a promise Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellProgressive group changes tone on Kaine Trump hits Kaine on TPP: He supports a 'job killer' Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Ky.) made in 2012 about repeal of ObamaCare:

That's the kind of measure that can be pursued with 51 votes in the Senate. And if I'm the leader of the majority next year, I commit to the American people that the repeal of ObamaCare will be job one.

Even though President Obama still wields the veto pen, House and Senate Republicans can still begin the process of delivering on that promise. They should use reconciliation to send a repeal of ObamaCare to the president's desk.

The case for doing so is straightforward.

First, forcing a presidential veto of a bill repealing ObamaCare will cause every presidential candidate to answer a simple question: What would you have done? Without exception, every candidate serious about securing the Republican nomination will answer: "I would have signed it in a heartbeat."

Second, the process of drafting and passing the reconciliation measure through both chambers will serve as a trial run. More importantly, it will reaffirm the Republican-controlled Congress's commitment to sending a bill repealing ObamaCare to the president's desk in 2017 — when it will hopefully be signed into law.

Third, every insurance company, hospital, industry group and boutique lobbying firm with a vested interest in ObamaCare will know the law remains unsettled. Continued uncertainty ensures the law will not calcify.

For those who are serious about ridding Americans of ObamaCare's burden, no alternative strategy is likely to bring about repeal early in 2017.

If the very serious policy implications were not compelling enough, there are important political considerations at play as well. As we saw in 2012, it is not a foregone conclusion that ObamaCare will be in the presidential spotlight. An ironclad commitment to repeal the law will keep it and its disastrous side effects at the forefront of the campaign. It also creates a very advantageous argument for conservatives in competitive Senate races: "Republicans must hold the Senate to ensure that we can repeal ObamaCare, and I will be the deciding vote to repeal this law."

Republican leaders have been playing coy, however, talking about the importance of repealing ObamaCare while preaching legislative flexibility. Fortunately, the budget conference agreement appears to provide clarity, "affirm[ing] the use of reconciliation for the sole purpose of repealing the President's job-killing health care law."

That is the right approach, because it recognizes that Obama is not going to sign any legislation passed with all Republican votes on reconciliation. Since it is unrealistic to believe Obama will sign a conservative tax reform plan or a response to King v. Burwell, the right question to ask is: What type of presidential veto best advances the cause of conservatism and ultimately helps Americans struggling under the Obama economy?

It appears that Republicans now believe the answer to that question is the complete repeal of ObamaCare.

Congress can begin the process — both in terms of securing a historic conservative policy victory and putting forward a compelling campaign narrative — by using the reconciliation instructions that emerged from the budget conference committee to send repeal to the president’s desk.

Needham is CEO of Heritage Action for America.

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