By Sarah Ferris - 08/03/15 06:00 AM EDT
Senate Republican leaders this week narrowly averted an intra-party battle over ObamaCare by again promising to get a repeal bill to the president’s desk through budget reconciliation.
But the use of reconciliation — a budget tool that allows bills to bypass the Senate’s 60-vote threshold — is still a matter of debate among Republicans in Congress.
“Why we have to prove we’re a one-trick pony around here on ObamaCare, I don’t know,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the House GOP leadership team, said in an interview this week.
Cole, who has voted to repeal ObamaCare more than 50 times in the House, said he would rather use reconciliation for potential areas of agreement. He specifically pointed to ideas like removing the budget caps of sequestration or reducing the annual growth in Social Security benefits, both of which Obama has previously backed.
“Sending the president a bill you know he will veto when he’s never going to be on the ballot again — I mean it’s a wasted opportunity. I’d rather pick something that he might sign,” Cole said.
Using reconciliation makes it much easier to get bills to Obama’s desk, because the budget process prevents a filibuster and allows the Senate to approve major policy changes in a majority vote.
But it also comes with restrictions. The procedure can only be used to move legislation that does not increase the deficit and cannot include “extraneous” provisions, under what is known as the Byrd Rule.
The process is also only allowed once per budget cycle, forcing the party to pick its battles. It can only be triggered if the House and Senate reach a joint conference agreement on their competing budgets — something Republicans accomplished earlier this year.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a former chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, said repealing ObamaCare through reconciliation would be just another symbolic vote.
“We don’t do reconciliation very often, so when we do, we ought to try to be serious and do things that reform the programs and save money that’s significant. That would be more than repealing ObamaCare,” Barton said.
He added that the Energy and Commerce Committee’s current chairman, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), was discussing the reconciliation strategy with members this week.
A spokeswoman for the committee directed questions about reconciliation plans to Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRepublican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare The disorderly order of presidential succession MORE’s (R-Ohio) office.
Using reconciliation to repeal ObamaCare had been seen as the preferred option among Republicans earlier this summer before the Supreme Court upheld the federal subsidies under the law.
GOP leaders had planned to use reconciliation to pass a healthcare bill if ObamaCare lost in court. The House budget gives reconciliation instructions to 3 authorizing committees while the Senate’s version empowers just two committees.
But after Obama’s victory in King v. Burwell, some Republicans in the House and Senate have said it’s time to move on.
That attitude has worried some of Congress’s most conservative members, who are under pressure from outside groups to either repeal ObamaCare, or face the consequences in their next election.
Conservative Republicans are pressuring their leadership to ensure ObamaCare repeal remains a priority as leaders hash out their reconciliation plans in the next two months.
Last Friday, Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeTrump accepts Cruz endorsement after saying he wouldn't In reversal, Cruz endorses Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Utah) threatened to derail a federal transportation bill unless the Senate took a vote on his amendment to repeal ObamaCare. A day later, he offered a deal to Senate GOP leaders: He would back off if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump slams Obama for ‘shameful’ 9/11 bill veto GOP chairman lobbies against overriding Obama on 9/11 bill Black Caucus demands Flint funding from GOP MORE (R-Ky.) vowed to use reconciliation to send a repeal bill to the president’s desk.
Lee was ultimately forced to drop his plans after an email surfaced from his office that appeared to be rallying conservative groups against Senate leadership on the ObamaCare amendment.
Lee and McConnell released a joint statement the next morning, with the junior Utah senator declaring: “The Majority Leader and I are committed to using reconciliation to repeal Obamacare in the 114th Congress.”
McConnell’s statement cited the promise made in the GOP budget.
“We will continue our effort to use reconciliation — as the budget makes clear — to fulfill the promise we made to our constituents,” the majority leader wrote.