McConnell has until Wednesday to prove he's serious about slaying ObamaCare

With an end-of-September deadline fast approaching, Senate Republicans appear to be coalescing around the Graham-Cassidy bill as a last-ditch attempt to use the 2017 reconciliation vehicle to take a step, any step, toward keeping their promise to repeal ObamaCare. But will they move fast enough to do what must be done before time runs out? The next few days will tell.

Earlier this month, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the 2017 reconciliation vehicle will expire at the end of the 2017 fiscal year, which happens at midnight on Sept. 30. Before that, Senate Republicans can use the reconciliation vehicle to pass a bill repealing as much of ObamaCare as is possible under reconciliation rules with just 51 votes — that is, 50 votes plus Vice President Pence presiding over the Senate and casting the deciding vote in favor.

After that date, though, the reconciliation vehicle will expire, and any attempt to repeal ObamaCare would no longer be protected — which means that in order to be considered, it would need to overcome a certain Democrat filibuster with 60 votes. Fat chance.

And there’s a hitch: Sept. 30 happens to be a Saturday, and it also happens to be Yom Kippur. Unless you believe the Senate is likely to be called into session on a Jewish holiday — and I don’t — the effective deadline for action is whenever the Senate ends next week’s business on Friday, Sept. 29.


Consequently, speed is of the essence.

The first speed bump is the Congressional Budget Office, which must score the bill before it can be voted on.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKavanaugh gets questionnaires for confirmation hearing Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Franken offers Dems a line of questioning for Kavanaugh's 'weirdly specific bit of bulls---' MORE (R-Ky.) has asked CBO for an expedited score. CBO has responded that it will be able to provide a partial score, analyzing the bill’s projected effects on government spending and meeting the threshold to determine whether or not the bill merits the protections of the reconciliation process. 

But there’s a second, larger speed concern: Democrat obstruction. Under reconciliation rules, debate is limited to just 20 hours. But once debate is done, senators can offer an unlimited number of amendments, which are then voted on without debate. This is the fabled “Vote-a-Rama.”

The good news is, there’s a hitch there, too. The amendments have to be relevant to the bill, they cannot increase the deficit, and they cannot be dilatory.

Ultimately, of course, the Democrats will run out of amendments. If they begin to dress up already-considered amendments in new clothes, just for the sake of extending the voting period, they can be ruled out of order and shut down with a ruling from the chair.

But will they run out of relevant, non-deficit-increasing amendments before the Sept. 29 deadline?

Well, that depends on how long the Senate is in session between now and then. If the Senate spends five hours in session every legislative day scheduled between now and Sept. 29, then, yes, the Democrats could probably run out the clock.

But the Senate schedule is set by the majority leader. He’s the one who decides when they’re going to go to work every day, and he’s the one who decides when they’re going to break for the evening. 

If McConnell says the Senate is staying in session around the clock, the Senate stays in session around the clock.

Clearly, if Republicans are serious about taking advantage of their opportunity to use the reconciliation vehicle, they will move as soon as possible to reconsideration of the bill. And they will stay in session as long as necessary to pass the bill before the Sept. 29 deadline arrives.

That will mean working nights and next weekend, coming back into session immediately following the end of Rosh Hashanah on Saturday.

So here’s how we’ll know if McConnell is serious about taking this next step toward repealing ObamaCare before time runs out. He’ll announce before the Senate breaks on Wednesday that he intends to reconsider the American Health Care Act, and he will advise his fellow senators that they should all catch up on their sleep over the next few days, because he intends to keep the Senate in session around the clock through Sept. 29.

Will Majority Leader McConnell prove he’s determined to help the GOP take this next step toward repealing ObamaCare? Time will tell.

Jenny Beth Martin (@JennyBethM) is president and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots.