Can the Senate Republicans Repeal Obamacare’s Mandate Through the Budget Reconciliation Process

August 10th, 2014

The Times has a profile of what the Republicans plan to do if they capture the majority in the Senate. The article notes that they will take a “symbolic” vote to repeal the ACA, which is bound to be vetoed by the President.

Even as they talk about pragmatic achievable solutions, though, Republicans also say they are likely to take an early symbolic vote on repeal of the health care law, which would face a certain veto by Mr. Obama. After that showdown, Republicans say, they could move on to more realistic proposals and changes in the law.

“If we won, I think you would see a vote for repeal, and I would vote to repeal the whole thing,” said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky and a presumed presidential candidate. “I have a feeling he won’t sign that. Then you start trying to see what he will sign.”

Yeah, that will go nowhere fast. But Senator Thune also addresses possibilities through the budget reconciliation process:

Republicans say they would lay the procedural groundwork within the budget for more sweeping changes on taxes and in social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid by initiating an arcane budget process known as reconciliation. The procedure can protect legislation from a filibuster and its 60-vote threshold and reduce the need for Democratic support.

“There are a lot of things you can do in reconciliation,” said Mr. Thune. “It would be nice to, in the budget process, start looking at the big stuff — tax reform, entitlements — and do some of the things we just haven’t had the capacity or will to do around here for a while.”

If Republicans came together on a major budget package, they could create an incentive for Mr. Obama to try to cut a deal with them, or in the alternative face the prospect of a grinding veto stalemate.

The reconciliation process can be used to modify things like taxes. And, if Chief Justice Roberts is taken seriously, the individual mandate is actually a tax. You may recall that many Republicans actually proposed using the same reconciliation process used to enact the ACA as a means to gut the ACA.

Flashback to this 2013 National Journal piece, titled, The Secret Republican Plan to Repeal ‘Obamacare’:

McConnell, a master of byzantine Senate procedure, immediately realized that, as a tax, the individual mandate would be subject to the budget reconciliation process, which exempted it from the filibuster. In other words, McConnell had just struck upon how to repeal Obamacare with a simple majority vote.

The Kentucky Republican called a handful of top aides into his office and told them, “Figure out how to repeal this through reconciliation. I want to do this.” McConnell ordered a repeal plan ready in the event the GOP took back control of the Senate in November — ironic considering Democrats used the same process more than two years earlier in a successful, last-shot effort to muscle the reforms into law.

In the months that followed, top GOP Senate aides held regular strategy meetings to plot a path forward. Using the reconciliation process would be complicated and contentious. Senate rules would require Republicans to demonstrate to the parliamentarian that their repeal provisions would affect spending or revenue and Democrats were sure to challenge them every step of the way. So the meetings were small and secret.

“You’re going in to make an argument. You don’t want to preview your entire argument to the other side ahead of time,” said a McConnell aide who participated in the planning. “There was concern that all of this would leak out.”

By Election Day, Senate Republicans were ready to, as McConnell put it, “take this monstrosity down.”

“We were prepared to do that had we had the votes to do it after the election. Well, the election didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to,” McConnell told National Journal in an interview. “The monstrosity has … begun to be implemented and we’re not giving up the fight.”

Jim Capretta offered a guide in 2011:

It’s true that Obamacare includes some provisions that, on their own, might be considered non-budgetary, but not nearly as many as some may think. The entire machinery of the coverage provisions — the individual mandate, the Medicaid expansion, the employer requirements — is entirely fueled by federal money (in the form of both subsidies and penalties). Moreover, the state exchanges and the regulatory apparatus they are intended to impose are also financed by federal taxpayers. Repeal of all of these provisions, which are the guts of Obamacare, is plainly a budgetary matter, and therefore appropriate in reconciliation. For the rest, creative legislative drafting can solve many problems

All the House and Senate would have to do is couple repeal with some strategic cuts in spending (including, perhaps, retention of some cuts that were enacted in Obamacare itself). The total package would then be estimated to cut the deficit and therefore fall well within the normal boundaries of a reconciliation bill.

More from WSJ.

Of course, the President can still veto the reconciliation bill, but at least this would be able to clear the Senate, even with a filibuster.