The Corner

Economy & Business

The Next Three Months

For President Obama and other outgoing Democrats, the pressure to push a progressive vision of government forward during the lame-duck session was bound to be big — but after last Tuesday’s election results, the pressure has got to be intense.

That means that fiscally responsible lawmakers in Congress are going to have to be super vigilant. First and foremost, they should refuse to pass a huge and opaque spending bill. Instead, Congress should simply pass a short-term continuing resolution, which would allow them to fund the government until President-elect Trump is in office. There is no reason for an end-of-the-year spending binge that some Republicans would have no doubt justified by the need to “compromise” with Democrats in the event of a Hillary Clinton win.

As they pass the CR, they must give instructions and prepare the way for a reconciliation process that would allow them to repeal many of the provisions in Obamacare. A budget-reconciliation bill can be passed by a simple majority and cannot be stopped by a filibuster in the Senate. The interesting twist here is that this is how the Democrats passed many of the provision of the law back in 2010. It’s going to be fun listening to them criticizing the process as “illegitimate” or what have you.

I don’t think I need to remind you how flawed the health-care law is and how many promises were made and ignored by the current administration and the law’s backers. But if you need a refresher, I would recommend reading this piece by my colleague Brian Blase and the Heritage Foundation’s Paul Winfree about why we must repeal Obamacare (and how to do it).

This piece by Timothy Jost over at Health Affairs provides a good recap of what can and cannot be done through reconciliation:

Budget reconciliation legislation is subject to strict procedural and substantive limits. Reconciliation in the Senate can only contain provisions that affect the revenues and outlays of the United States and cannot contain “extraneous provisions” that only incidentally affect revenue and expenditures. Budget reconciliation is a two-step process — first Congress adopts a budget resolution with instructions to committees to meet reconciliation targets and then it adopts the reconciliation itself. This cannot happen on “day one.”

Congress took a dry run at repeal budget reconciliation legislation in 2015. Both houses of Congress passed reconciliation legislation that would have repealed the premium tax credits; the small business tax credit; the individual mandate, the employer mandate; the expansion of Medicaid coverage for adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, presumptive eligibility, maintenance of effort, and benchmark plans for Medicaid; and the ACA’s taxes — the medical device tax, insurer fee, “Cadillac” high cost plan tax, and tax increases imposed on the wealthy — most of the provisions that the public identifies as “Obamacare.” The legislation was vetoed by President Obama.

Winfree and Blase would go further this time around since as they explain:

The main problem with last year’s reconciliation bill is that it maintained the ACA’s insurance market regulations. These include the rules that all insurance meet or exceed Washington-dictated standards for what benefits they cover, as well as pricing rules that substantially raised the price of insurance for younger and healthier people. These rules have resulted in ACA plans proving attractive only to people who qualify for large taxpayer-funded subsidies and have led many to wait until they need medical care to purchase coverage.

I don’t have the expertise to know if that can be done or not through reconciliation. However, they are absolutely correct that this part of Obamacare, which resulted in less choice and much higher premiums, must also be repealed.

Now, here are a few other housekeeping announcements that Republicans need to listen to as they go into the next three months.

‐ Resist the temptation to cater to special-interest groups by adopting a tax-extender package as Mercatus’s Adam Michel and I explain in this paper.

‐ Don’t attach any change to the quorum of the Ex-Im Bank’s board of directors — such as the one pushed by fervent advocates of the crony agency, including Representative Charlie Dent and Senator Lindsey Graham. In the fight against the unhealthy marriage between big businesses and government, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Richard Shelby, has been courageously holding the line since the reauthorization of Ex-Im last December to prevent the Bank from recovering its ability to approve deals above $10 million. Now is not the time to ruin his efforts.

‐ Don’t bailout insurers — who were hoping to make a lot of money from Obamacare thanks to millions of new captured consumers, but that ended up losing big.

Quite frankly, this list should be obvious to any and all Republicans in Congress. However, these are a lot of the same people who went along with the massive expansion of government under President Bush — and haven’t done as much as they should have since 2010.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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