Pelosi says Democrats would fast-track ObamaCare, COVID-19 aid next year

Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday that, given control of both chambers of Congress next year, Democrats intend to fast-track legislation to strengthen ObamaCare and provide coronavirus relief. 

To do so, they would lean on a special budget procedure, known as reconciliation, that empowers the majority party in the Senate to move legislation with just a simple majority — a move that would erase the minority party’s filibuster powers.

Democrats have vowed throughout this year’s campaign to strengthen the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and deliver more federal help to tackle the dual crises of health and economy caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Pelosi said they can do both via reconciliation.

“It is a budget bill, it is consistent with the rules of the House and the Senate that you can pass a bill under reconciliation,” she said during a health care forum with Protect Our Care, a liberal advocacy group. “And we most certainly will be passing a reconciliation bill, not only for the Affordable Care Act, but for what we may want to do further on the pandemic, and some other issues that relate to the well-being of the American people.” 

The move carries enormous significance for the fate of legislation next year.

Even if Democrats win unified power in Tuesday’s elections — sweeping the White House and both chambers of Congress — their Senate majority is expected to be razor thin — far shy of the 60 seats needed to sidestep the filibusters the minority Republicans are sure to employ. That means Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the Republican leader, could block most bills passed by Pelosi and the House Democrats before they ever reach the desk of Joe Biden if he’s elected president. 

Democrats have focused their campaigns heavily on the health care issue this cycle, warning of an erosion of benefits under the ACA if President Trump and Republicans retain power.

The topic has an outsized resonance amid the coronavirus crisis, during which 9 million in America have been infected with the disease. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on Nov. 10 surrounding a lawsuit, brought by a handful of Republican-led states, to repeal ObamaCare in its entirety. 

With that in mind, Democrats want to move quickly next year to bolster the ACA and preclude any decision the high court might make. 

They also want to secure another massive round of coronavirus relief after the elections this year, after negotiations between Pelosi and the White House broke down last month. Even if they do secure a lame-duck deal, however, the Speaker has said more help will be needed next year, particularly if there’s a vaccine breakthrough and funding is needed to ensure quick and affordable distribution.

“It is a life and death election,” Pelosi said. “Everyone’s health is on the line.”

Both parties have leaned on reconciliation to move major legislation over the past decade. In 2010, Democrats enacted the Affordable Care Act using that procedural tactic, and Republicans in 2017 pushed through President Trump’s tax reform law by the same method.

GOP leaders that year had also tried to repeal ObamaCare via reconciliation, but were thwarted by defections in their own ranks, most notably the late-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose dramatic thumbs down on the chamber floor denied Trump an early White House victory. 

Tags Donald Trump Joe Biden John McCain Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi

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