Republicans in Congress are moving toward a plan to use a special budgetary process to repeal ObamaCare, after the Supreme Court ruled for a second time to uphold the controversial law.
Since last year’s elections, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellStudy: Trump tops recent GOP presidents in signing bills in first 100 days Senate passes stopgap funding bill to avert shutdown Let’s never talk about a government shutdown — ever again MORE (R-Ky.) has proposed using budget reconciliation to repeal large chunks of the law.
McConnell is expected to follow through on his earlier proposals, to the delight of conservatives, after Thursday’s 6-3 court ruling in support of a provision of the healthcare law dealing with insurance exchanges and subsidies.
He views the budgetary tactic as the only way to get an ObamaCare repeal to the president’s desk.
The effort has no real chance of becoming law — Obama is certain to veto it — but it will enable Republicans to satisfy their base supporters and draw a contrast between the parties ahead of next year’s presidential election.
“We know the president’s not likely to sign anything we send him, and the Democrats are not likely to vote for anything we send him,” McConnell told The New York Times in an interview Thursday.
“So it leaves only one vehicle available, if you want to revisit Obamacare, and that would be to use reconciliation. But no decision has been made on the timing of that,” he said.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also said Thursday that no decision had yet been made in his chamber.
Talk among Republicans about repealing ObamaCare had slackened in recent weeks as senators focused instead on coming up with a response to any scenario in which the court struck down subsidies for roughly 6.4 million people in more than 30 states.
“We were more thinking about a different outcome than occurred,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). “All of our discussions really up until this time have been what we would do if [the court] ruled in our favor.”
Now that the court has upheld the federal exchange, the discussion is shifting once again to using reconciliation to repeal as much of ObamaCare as possible. Reconciliation can only be used to erase those parts of the law that affect spending, revenues and the deficit.
Twenty-five Senate Republicans so far have signed a letter to McConnell urging him to go that route.
“Existing law, House and Senate rules, and clear precedent allow the use of reconciliation for the repeal of ObamaCare. Therefore, repeal of ObamaCare should be included in any legislation considered pursuant to the reconciliation instructions contained in the fiscal year 2016 Budget Resolution,” the letter states.
Conservative lawmakers say McConnell and Boehner promised to use reconciliation to repeal ObamaCare when the Senate and House passed their budget resolutions.
McConnell said during the Senate debate over the budget that it would “provide the procedural tools — via the budget reconciliation process — to bring an end to the nightmare of ObamaCare.”
“That’s something all of us should want,” he added.
Some Republicans want to make repeal the centerpiece of their 2016 campaign platform.
“It's going to be one of the most important, if not the most important, debating point for the 2016 presidential election and I believe that our candidate will win the White House primarily because of his or her commitment to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with a patient-centered system,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a House conservative.
Other GOP members, however, suggest that reconciliation should be used for something that would have a better chance of becoming law, such as tax reform.
“I certainly would favor the repeal of ObamaCare, but he's not going to sign that,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a Boehner ally. “And it's not going to make any difference because he's never on the ballot again. To me, it makes more sense to put something that Democrats won't support but he might sign on his desk.”
Cole speculated Obama could back making wealthier beneficiaries pay more for Medicare — known as means-testing — or using the chained consumer price index to curb the growth of Social Security payments.
A senior Senate Republican aide, however, dismissed the option as unrealistic because there are so few policy areas where Obama sides with Republicans over the majority of his own party. Fast-track trade authority, which passed this week with majority GOP support, is a rare example.
“If the president supports corporate tax reform, it’s going to get Democratic votes,” the aide said, dismissing the notion that reconciliation is a useful or necessary vehicle for tax reform.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has jurisdiction over the issue, said using reconciliation to get tax reform to Obama’s desk is a “possibility,” but added the decision rests with McConnell and other GOP leaders.
“There’s been considerable discussion but not really definitive discussion,” he said.
Republicans privately acknowledge it won’t be easy to use reconciliation to unwind the subsidies and tax penalties that make up the heart of the law.
The joint Senate-House budget resolution instructs the two Senate committees of jurisdiction: Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, to come up with a package that reduces the deficit by at least $1 billion.
They must meet that target if they are to win the special protections that will allow it to pass with only 51 votes.
That goal appears more difficult in light of a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report estimating full repeal of the healthcare law would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit over the next decade.
Hatch, however, dismissed the claim that repealing ObamaCare would hurt the nation’s fiscal outlook.
“Are you kidding? ObamaCare is going to swamp us,” he said.
“They’re never right, so I wouldn’t put any stock in that,” he added of the CBO report. “That’s peanuts compared to the trillions that the Democrats are leading us into.”