Politics & Policy

The House Failed to Push for Real Conservative Reforms in the Obamacare Reconciliation Fight

(Getty Images)

Now that Republicans control both houses of Congress, the House of Representatives has an important role to play in advancing conservative policies. House membership is more conservative than the Senate; its rules often make it easier to pass conservative legislation; and the individual members of the House minority get less national attention than Senate Democrats in pushing back on the majority’s initiatives, meaning that the House has, in theory, unique advantages when it comes to framing the national debate. Its job should be to set the high-water mark in the legislative ping-pong before bills reach the president’s desk.

Often that’s been the case, as when House Republicans included the premium-support reforms they’ve long supported in their own budget earlier this year — even though the Senate refused to endorse them. But when both chambers finally came together on a budget, there was one important promise they made together: They would use the budget-reconciliation process to repeal Obamacare.

Oddly enough, it’s the House, not the Senate, that was first to cave in delivering on repeal (a top commitment that members in both chambers made during the 2014 campaign). From The Hill:

Senate Republican leaders plan to go further with their ObamaCare repeal bill after finding that the House-passed version cannot win a simple majority on the floor.

“The House guys are going to be surprised when they learn they were outflanked by the Senate, which will pass a more conservative ObamaCare repeal,” said a Senate GOP aide.

“We hear they want to significantly expand on the House bill.”

That’s right: Mitch McConnell’s much-maligned Senate could end up passing stronger legislation on Obamacare than the House.

#share#Last month, House Republicans passed a reconciliation bill they claimed repealed Obamacare as promised. It didn’t. Obamacare’s main pillars — its mandates, exchange subsidies, and Medicaid expansion — remained in place. Instead the bill focused on big-business priorities like elimination of the employer mandate and the medical-device tax.

If the Senate really wants to water down good legislation, let it be the one to do it.

As Jason Yaworske wrote at National Review several months ago, the notion that full repeal is unachievable through reconciliation is a myth. But the House didn’t just fall short of full repeal; it didn’t even go for all of the pieces of Obamacare that even full-repeal skeptics acknowledge are reconcilable. That the Senate, which has long been inclined to view full repeal as a bridge too far, is considering amending the bill to make it stronger is revealing of the issues that led to John Boehner’s ouster: Leadership has consistently avoided delivering on the Republicans’ core campaign promises.

The worst part of this was the leadership’s strategy: tying the reconciliation debate to Planned Parenthood in order to avoid a real fight to defund the organization through a government-funding bill. That decision was designed to pit the pro-life movement against the Obamacare-repeal coalition. This isn’t how conservatives should operate.

#related#Some Republicans in the House might have thought this strategy was clever: by pre-empting an anticipated effort by Senate moderates to water down the bill (by doing that on their own in advance), perhaps they were trying to make it easier to get the bill across the finish line. But this turn of events shows why that sort of thinking isn’t the right approach for the House to take. If the Senate really wants to water down good legislation, let it be the one to do it.

Moreover, if the House had set the high-water mark at a simple repeal bill, the debate wouldn’t hinge today on which specific elements of a reconciliation package on Obamacare are most politically challenging for moderate senators. That’s something that’s long been true of the Obamacare debate: Republicans are always in better shape making the case against this extremely unpopular law in its entirety than looking like they’re in the pockets of big business by advocating minor tweaks to the law or looking like they’re out to get the poorest beneficiaries of Obamacare by focusing on issues like the Medicaid expansion in isolation.

No doubt the Senate would take up the House’s weak package if the numbers were there. But they don’t look to be. Good for Senators Lee, Cruz, and Rubio for leveraging their votes to force the Senate to craft a better package. And shame on the House for putting them in this position in the first place.​

Most Popular