Eyeing 2016, Republicans adopt new ObamaCare strategy

The Hill – by Alexander Bolton

With an eye on 2016, congressional Republicans are adopting a new strategy on repealing ObamaCare.

For years, the effort to kill President Obama’s signature healthcare law has stalled in the GOP-led House. Now, Republicans have a new goal: getting a bill to his desk.

Congressional Republicans plan to pass a deficit-reduction package that repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After a shaky start this year, GOP leaders want to show they can govern and set the terms for 2016, when they will try to retain control of Congress and retake the White House.  

Even though the ObamaCare repeal bill will not become law this Congress, Republicans believe they will benefit politically if they can force Obama into a veto. They claim that would send the message to voters that Republicans just need the White House in order to shake up Washington.

The decision to target the ACA through a budget measure is clearly a nod to the right, as well as an effective way to round up votes for the GOP blueprint this spring.

However, the White House is confident it has the upper hand in setting the agenda in Washington.

Senior administration officials told reporters Tuesday that Republicans in Congress have shown an inability to govern, citing the fight over Department of Homeland Security funding and a stalled human trafficking bill.

The officials, speaking on background, pointed to dysfunction on Capitol Hill as evidence that the GOP won’t be able to move big-ticket legislative items such as tax reform and long-term transportation funding.

By making another attempt to repeal ObamaCare in their budget, Republicans missed another opportunity to open the door to bipartisan compromise, the officials said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), a senior Republican on the Budget Committee, said his colleagues want “to make sure we don’t do anything to make ObamaCare look like a permanent piece of legislation, so it can become an issue in the next campaign and the next president can make a decision what to do about it.”

Despite recent favorable headlines, polls show the healthcare law remains unpopular. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey this month showed 44 percent of respondents view the law as a “total bad idea” and 37 percent see it positively.

House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a budget plan that includes special instructions paving the way for legislation repealing much of the ACA.

Senate Republicans say their budget, to be unveiled Wednesday, will include similar language. Senators say they plan to use a special budgetary process known as reconciliation to make it easier to pass a measure later this year helping people transition away from the healthcare subsidies provided by the law.

When the two budgets are merged into a single legislative product this spring, it will include special instructions that will allow a package to pass the Senate with only 51 votes, instead of the 60 usually required to overcome a filibuster.

GOP strategists view this transition program as politically necessary in case the Supreme Court strikes down the health insurance exchanges in 37 states when it rules later this year in King v. Burwell.

A senior Senate GOP aide said the budget planned for introduction Wednesday will include reconciliation language that will give lawmakers wide latitude to move a package repealing ObamaCare and establishing a program to transition away from it.

“It will be broad enough that you can do anything,” said the aide.

“We’re working on a transition, a temporary transition to protect the people that have been hurt by the president’s actions on the healthcare law, and this is all in line with the King case in front of the Supreme Court,” said Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, who is leading the GOP effort.

“The idea is by passing a budget in the House, passing a budget in the Senate, if the Supreme Court rules the administration acted illegally, we want to put something on the president’s desk with the 51 votes that are required in the Senate under reconciliation,” he added.

The House budget includes an instruction to House committees to “determine the most effective methods” by which the healthcare law shall be “repealed in [its] entirety.”

The House blueprint gives instructions to 13 committees to find ways to reduce the deficit, raising the possibility that a variety of proposals could be crammed into one package and then pass the upper chamber with a simple majority.

The Senate parliamentarian has advised that the budget will allow Republicans to move one spending reconciliation bill, one tax reconciliation bill and one reconciliation bill to raise the debt limit.

Legislation repealing as much of ObamaCare through the special process as possible would count as a spending and a tax reconciliation bill. That means any effort to pass a healthcare transition program or reforms to Medicare and Medicaid or tax reform would have to be included.

Only a narrower bill to raise the debt limit could move separately and still enjoy the possibility of passing with 51 votes.

The shape and scope of the reconciliation bill that will ultimately move through the Senate remains to be decided, but lawmakers say they are inclined to keep it focused on addressing ObamaCare.

The Supreme Court is not expected to rule in King v. Burwell, which will decide whether the federal government is authorized to distribute insurance subsidies in states that have not established their own marketplaces, until June.

This means a healthcare reconciliation package will not move before July, giving Republicans time to determine whether they need to include the transition program that Barrasso is working on with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

“The transition product is not a replacement of
ObamaCare, it’s a way to deal with possible consequences of King v. Burwell and provide a bridge to a different kind of healthcare system that Congress and a new president could adopt that could give patients more choice,” Alexander said.

“The transition product might be able to be included in the reconciliation package, depending on how it’s written,” he added. “We want to make sure the 6 or 7 million [people] who might be hurt by theKing v. Burwell decision are not hurt.”

Jordan Fabian contributed.



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