GOP grapples with ObamaCare defeat

GOP grapples with ObamaCare defeat
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Republicans are back to square one in their fight against ObamaCare now that the Supreme Court has upheld the subsidies at the heart of the healthcare law.

GOP lawmakers in both chambers of Congress had been crafting plans to roll back pieces of ObamaCare in the event that the Supreme Court ruled against the law in King v. Burwell.

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But with the high court on Thursday delivering an emphatic, 6-3 ruling in favor of the administration, those legislative proposals are moot, forcing Republicans back to the drawing board.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynFive questions about the next COVID-19 relief package Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting Lawmakers ask for briefings on Chinese targeting of coronavirus research MORE (R-Texas) vowed Thursday that Republicans will “continue to fight tooth and nail to repeal” the Affordable Care Act. 

“Today’s decision doesn’t change the fact that ObamaCare has been a disaster for the millions of hardworking American families who have seen their health care costs skyrocket or lost their insurance entirely,” he added. 

But the court’s ruling leaves Republicans with limited options, with President Obama certain to veto any legislation that scales back his signature domestic program.

Conservative Republicans are now focusing on using the process known as reconciliation to repeal the law with just 51 votes needed in the Senate, instead of the usual 60.

But the reconciliation process is fraught with difficulty for the GOP because it cannot be used to make policy changes that add to the deficit.

The official scorekeeper for Congress last week estimated that repealing ObamaCare root and branch would increase the deficit by more than $300 billion over a decade — illustrating the challenge ahead.

While Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPelosi, Trump slide further into the muck The partisan divide on crisis aid Congress must continue to move online MORE (R-Ohio) said Thursday that no decisions have been made yet about using reconciliation to dismantle ObamaCare, it appears to be the party’s last chance to pursue repeal before the next president takes office in 2017.

“It’s probably the only tool left in our toolbox right now,” Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), said of reconciliation, adding with a laugh, “I mean, we could vote against it again.”

“We'll do everything we can under reconciliation, again subject to the Byrd Rule,” said Rep. Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresLawmakers ask Trump administration to help Gulf oil and gas producers Texas kicks off critical battle for House control Democrats push to end confidentiality for oil companies that don't add ethanol MORE (R-Texas), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. The rule, named after the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), limits how reconciliation can be used in the Senate.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) split from more conservative members and said he wants a narrower use of reconciliation that includes measures Obama might actually sign.

“I certainly would favor the repeal of ObamaCare, but he's not going to sign that,” Cole said. “And it's not going to make any difference because he's never on the ballot again. To me, it makes more sense to put something that Democrats won't support but he might sign on his desk.”

Cole mentioned measures the president has signaled support for, like making wealthier beneficiaries pay more for Medicare, which is known as means-testing, and imposing reductions in Social Security payment growth through what is known as Chained Consumer Price Index. 

Westmoreland, in contrast, said he supports using reconciliation, but only if Republicans don’t try to dilute their reforms by trying to compromise with the administration.

“If our goal is just to get something that he will sign, I mean, I don’t know that that’s going to be anything that will help anybody,” Westmoreland said.

“We need to make sure that we put something in there that would help the American people, whether he signs it or not,” he said.

Other Republicans have less faith in reconciliation as a strategy and see few options for scaling back the law until they succeed in winning the White House.

“Ultimately, we’re going to need a Republican president to repeal and put something else in place,” Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksArizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership MORE (R-Ariz.) said.

“When you have a Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe star of tomorrow: Temptation and a career in politics reporting Blair questions Trump approach to coronavirus pandemic How a global 'Manhattan Project' could end pandemics MORE in the White House, you know that no matter what reasonable package is sent to him, if it includes anything that adjusts ObamaCare in any sane direction, he’s going to veto it. That only sets up the same dynamic that we’ve had.”

"We’ve already repealed ObamaCare what, 40 plus times. I’m not sure repeating that process one more time is going to clarify for people our respective decisions.”

Rep. Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Moniz says U.S. needs energy jobs coalition and Manchin says Congress is pushing Wall Street solutions that don't work for Main Street; Burr to step aside The Hill's 12:30 Report: House returns to DC for coronavirus relief House leaders enact new safety precautions for votes MORE (R-Texas) said Republicans might be more likely to use reconciliation for tax reform now that their chances at winning changes to the Affordable Care Act have been diminished.  

“I think next steps, whatever they are, really do need to include the ballot box and 2016 election,” he said.

“Obviously, I don’t see any other court challenges coming in the next 18 months, so we’re probably done with the court as a remedy,” he added.