Republicans move closer to ObamaCare fallback

Greg Nash

Budget proposals from the House and Senate are moving the GOP closer to a fallback plan if Supreme Court strikes down billions of ObamaCare subsidies later this spring.

Both chambers’ budget proposals include an obscure but powerful budget tool known as reconciliation, which allows committees to write bills that can’t be filibustered in the Senate.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMike EnziGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Report: Feds spend billions on PR Restive GOP freshmen eye entitlement reform MORE (R-Wyo.) said Wednesday that the Senate will use reconciliation to come up with legislation to address the looming court case, King v. Burwell. If the Obama administration loses, congressional Republicans will be pressed to help the 7.5 million people who would then lose $28 billion worth of subsidies.

“We have an instruction with flexibility for that healthcare dilemma,” Enzi said as he began the markup process Wednesday. He stressed that a GOP plan is necessary as the court threatens to throw ObamaCare “into disarray.”

GOP leaders had been eying reconciliation as a way to show the Supreme Court that they have a plan of action in case King v. Burwell goes in their favor, while buying themselves several months to hammer out details.

Enzi’s proposal gives power to two committees to draft legislation on ObamaCare — the Finance Committee and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).

The Senate budget notes that the healthcare law "is now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court," and says the ruling in the case "could significantly alter the levels of spending in the budget resolution."

"Consequently, the Senate Republican budget includes reconciliation instructions for health care, but the actual contours of that legislation are unknowable at this time."

While federal law prevents leadership from giving committees specific instructions, the Senate proposal sends a strong message by including reconciliation instructions in the section that calls for a repeal of ObamaCare.   

Still, it will be a tough battle for Congress to consolidate the two proposals into a single document before reconciliation can be used.

Achieving a budget compromise will be a challenge for Republicans, with conservatives intent on slashing spending and defense hawks call for spending increases at the Pentagon.

Reconciliation could be a sweetener for some fiscal conservatives.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that he is likely to support the overall budget because of its use of reconciliation.

“I think reconciliation language will be a motivating reason for I think many of us to lean toward supporting the budget,” Jordan said.

The Senate’s proposal offers a more targeted approach to King v. Burwell planning than the more broad reconciliation process in the House.

Under the House bill, 13 committees are charged with creating reconciliation bills. Those committees have until July 15, about one month after a decision from the Supreme Court is expected.

The two Senate committees will have until July 31 to present their bills.

Both chambers have given committees a tight timeline for any King v. Burwell planning. The case, which held arguments March 4, is likely to be decided in late June.

Using the special budget process also staves off weeks of GOP in-fighting over how to deal with the court case while still pushing for a full repeal of ObamaCare.  

More than a half-dozen GOP leaders say they are working on their own plans to make up for the subsidies that could be lost in King v. Burwell, though the party remains far from a consensus about what plan to use. Some in the GOP are adamant that nothing should be done to avert the fallout.