Obamacare Repeal Through Reconciliation: What Goes Around, Comes Around

by David French

Remember when the Democrats passed Obamacare through reconciliation, using procedural gimmickry to pass major social legislation over the unanimous objection of the minority party? So do congressional Republicans, and it looks like payback might be imminent:

The new Congress was sworn in on Tuesday, and the first thing it did was prepare to repeal Obamacare.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Michael Enzi (R-WY) introduced a budget resolution Tuesday that includes “reconciliation instructions” that enable Congress to repeal Obamacare with a simple Senate majority. Passing a budget resolution that includes those instructions will mean that the legislation can pass through the budget reconciliation process, in which bills cannot be filibustered.

That means Republicans will only need 50 of their 52 members in the Senate, and a bare majority in the House, to pass legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act. According to the Wall Street Journal, the budget resolution could be passed by both houses as early as next week.

Here’s how CNN summarized the move:

Broad legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare would require 60 votes in the Senate, and Republicans don’t control enough seats to make that happen or to squash a filibuster by the Democrats.

Instead, Republican lawmakers are expected to use the budget process, which is limited to provisions that affect federal revenues and spending and requires only a simple majority to pass. It would enable Congress to repeal the Obamacare mandates that individuals have coverage and that companies with 50 or more employees provide workers with affordable insurance. Also, it can do away with the federal subsidies, eliminate funding for Medicaid expansion and cancel a multitude of Obamacare-related taxes.

The Democratic governing strategy in the age of Obama seemed to be contain three elements: 1) use all available power to implement the administration’s ideological agenda; 2) hold the presidency for the indefinite future; and 3) enjoy the glorious new American dawn. Step one — mission accomplished. Step two — oops. 

So now the Left lives with the world it made. The outgoing administration’s signal legislative achievement can be undone through simple majority. Key progressive social reforms — implemented through letters and memoranda — can be undone at the stroke of a pen. The most controversial judicial nominations will escape filibuster. In other words, if the Republicans have the will, they actually have a way to not just unwind much of the Obama legacy, they can reform the judiciary without fear of Democratic “Borking.” 

One of the principal rules of politics is what goes around, comes around. Another is that majorities are never permanent. The Democrats seem to have forgotten both. Live by the executive sword and legislative trickery, and you’ll die by the same weapons. 

EDIT: I originally typed “majority party” in the first sentence of the post. That’s obviously wrong. Republicans were in the minority when Obamacare passed, of course. 

UPDATE: In a post above, Ramesh does what I should have done — describe Obamacare’s passage more completely and precisely:

People may have forgotten it, but most of Obamacare was actually passed with 60 Senate votes. But too many House Democrats objected to the Senate version of the bill to pass it. They wanted to iron out their differences with Senate Democrats and then pass a new version of the bill. But then Senator Ted Kennedy died and was replaced by Scott Brown, a Republican opposed to Obamacare, so Democrats no longer had enough votes to overcome a filibuster. Their solution had two parts. First, they’d have the House vote for the bill that had already passed the Senate with 60 votes. Second, they would have both chambers pass a second bill–it was dubbed a “sidecar” at the time–that made some changes to Obamacare to satisfy the House but was immune to filibusters.

In sum, the bulk of Obamacare passed without reconciliation. Some fixes to the bill passed with reconciliation. I should not have flatly said, “The Democrats passed Obamacare through reconciliation.” That was sloppy. My apologies.

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