Health Care

ObamaCare case looms over GOP budget

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Congressional Republicans are considering using a budget tool known as reconciliation to deliver a bill to President Obama’s desk outlining their party’s response to the Supreme Court case challenging ObamaCare.

GOP aides say reconciliation is becoming an increasingly attractive option to avert the healthcare meltdown that could result from a ruling this June against ObamaCare in the King v. Burwell case.

A ruling against the administration could take away subsidies from people in 37 states, many of them led by GOP governors, to buy ObamaCare on state-based health exchanges.

{mosads}Using reconciliation would make it much easier to get a fix 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 would also introduce complications to the GOP’s already thorny prospect of moving a budget bill. Budgets are always controversial, and a plan that includes fixes to ObamaCare but does not fully repeal the law could draw opposition from some Republicans.

The GOP is already coming under conflicting pressures.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) called Monday for Congress to provide transitional aid to people in danger of losing their subsidies. But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a prospective GOP candidate for the White House, has criticized fixes that would allow ObamaCare to stand.

Separately, Republicans are determined to show the Supreme Court that they have a plan of action, because they believe it will make the justices more likely to rule against ObamaCare’s subsidies.

Budget reconciliation would allow Republicans to signal to the justices and to state leaders that they are working on a plan while buying themselves several months to hammer out details.

Both the House and Senate have charged senior members with creating backup plans to replace the subsidies. Officials for both working groups, led by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), respectively, have said reconciliation is being considered.

“Republicans are considering a number of options for repairing the damage of Obamacare. Budget reconciliation is certainly one option,” Barrasso spokeswoman Emily Schillinger wrote in an email. Barrasso told reporters last fall that he planned to “use every tool that is out there, including reconciliation,” to torpedo ObamaCare.

Then-President Reagan signed the first major reconciliation bill into law in August 1981. It was last used by Democrats in 2010 to muscle through pieces of ObamaCare — a fact that has given Republicans fuel for their current reconciliation push.

If Republicans were to use the tool, they wouldn’t have to make a quick decision on an ObamaCare fix.

At the beginning of the reconciliation process, the party will only need to specify which committee will create the legislation, how much money it will save and a deadline to draft the bill. The topic of the legislation itself might not emerge for several weeks, or even months, until the committee presents the legislation.

“All you need is a dollar amount,” said David Reich, a senior policy consultant for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “I don’t see any reason they would not want to include reconciliation directives. It’s a very powerful tool.”

House and Senate Republicans plan to release separate budget resolutions early next week, immediately mark them up and adopt them by the end of March. At least one of the blueprints must include reconciliation language in order for it to be considered in a House-Senate GOP conference, Senate GOP aides told The Hill.

If both chambers manage to pass a negotiated budget conference agreement, which is nonbinding, with reconciliation instructions, authorizing committees will be given a certain time frame to work on reconciliation bills.

Only the bills drafted by authorizing committees and approved by Congress would face a presidential veto.

Republicans will have to carefully maneuver complex procedural rules to get a budget reconciliation bill finished.

Reconciliation bills must fully offset any new costs and cannot include “extraneous” provisions, under the Byrd Rule. The process is also only allowed once per budget cycle, forcing the party to pick its battles.

Tags John Barrasso Paul Ryan

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