Mike Lee’s Obamacare Bombshell

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Last night Phil Klein had a report that is much more significant than I think a lot of people have realized:

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said on Wednesday that the Senate parliamentarian has told him that it may be possible for Republicans to push harder on repealing Obamacare’s regulations than the current House bill, which contradicts the assertion by House leadership that the legislation goes after Obamacare as aggressively as possible under Senate rules. . . .

Lee also said that the parliamentarian told him it wasn’t until very recently, after the unveiling of the House bill, that any Republican even asked her about the possibility of repealing regulations with a simple majority.

Lee’s statement was followed by, and probably contributed to, last-minute efforts by the House leadership to tweak its health-care bill to win a vote scheduled for today. But if Lee is right, then what’s called for is stopping this process and starting over.

The central defect of the bill is that it leaves too many Obamacare regulations in place. That’s why conservatives rightly say that it falls short of repealing and replacing Obamacare. It’s why it doesn’t do much to lower premiums. If it did more to reduce those premiums, it would make coverage more attractive to people and more people would get covered. Even the Congressional Budget Office, as dubious as some of its assumptions are, acknowledges this point.

House Republican leaders have asserted repeatedly that the bill is carefully designed to go as far as it can to tackle regulations while staying within Senate rules that shield it from a filibuster. The Senate parliamentarian, they said, would allow most regulatory provisions to be filibustered; if the bill had too many such provisions, Democrats could use a filibuster to keep the bill from even being taken up in the Senate. But, they added, many of the regulatory features of Obamacare that Republicans want to change could be addressed by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and by further legislation that would win enough Democratic support to overcome filibusters.

If Lee is right, though, none of this is true. Republicans can change or eliminate more of Obamacare’s regulations with a simple-majority vote. They don’t have to wait for a second and third stage of policy change to make needed reforms. They can write a bill that would do more to lower premiums, get a better CBO score on coverage, and do more to repeal Obamacare than their current one.

But they can’t do it on the fly. They will have to figure out just how much freedom the Senate majority has to change regulations and then what regulatory changes both make sense and can win over a majority of both chambers. They ought to take the time to do that.

The Corner

The one and only.