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It's not too late. A recent deft maneuver by Sen. Mike Lee has inspired Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell to publicly commit to using the budget procedure to send a repeal of Obamacare to the president's desk.
In a recent deft maneuver, Sen. Mike Lee used Senate procedure to derail the highway funding bill in an effort to repeal Obamacare. This inspired Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell to publicly commit to using the budget process to send a repeal of the Affordable Care Act to the president’s desk.
Lee’s attempt to achieve a simple majority vote on Obamacare repeal as part of the highway bill put McConnell in a tight spot, because such an amendment would effectively kill the bill, and the authorization of the Export-Import Bank with it. Using this leverage, Lee managed to achieve an even better outcome, provided that leadership actually follows through on their promises.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah pauses while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 6, 2014. AP Photo/Cliff Owen
The use of budget reconciliation to repeal Obamacare involves passing a new bill that makes spending numbers conform to the budget resolutions passed by both chambers of Congress earlier this year. Such a bill can include language to effectively repeal most of the Affordable Care Act. Most importantly, the bill would only need a bare, 51-vote majority to pass the Senate. Republicans currently control 54 Senate seats, and there are more than enough conservatives in the House to push through the repeal language. If a vote is held and any Senate Republicans flip, they know that they will be pilloried in their home states for their defections.
It may seem like political arcana, but this is exactly the same tactic that Democrats used in 2010 to pass parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in the first place. At that time, not a single Republican voted to support the law, and the intervening five years have not done anything to make Obamacare look better. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t happen.
The House of Representatives has voted to repeal all or part of Obamacare more than 50 times since it was passed. It’s easy to vote for things when you know there’s no chance of the legislation actually moving. Now it’s time for Congress to make good on the campaign promises that gave Republicans control of both chambers of Congress in 2014.
It’s true that Obama would never sign a budget that repealed his signature legislative achievement, but forcing him to actively veto it would send a powerful message to the country and set up health care as a major campaign issue in 2016. It’s also a dry run to prove that Obamacare repeal can be done, and all we have to do is put someone in the White House willing to sign it.
If Congress fails to act to repeal Obamacare, Republican candidates will be able to dodge the issue and avoid making any hard and fast promises to reverse the damage done to our health care system by the Obama administration. A veto, on the other hand, forces every candidate to either stand with the president on supporting a law that is harming millions of people, or distance themselves from him by agreeing to sign any repeal bill Congress sends them.
Additionally, the need for a hard and fast position on Obamacare will separate the men from the boys in the Republican field. There are plenty in Grand Old Party who now consider Obamacare the law of the land, and would be content with a mere legislative “fix” to the law instead of full repeal. That’s an unacceptable position, and one that forcing Obama’s veto would make untenable in the Republican primary.
The time for fence-sitting is past. Republicans are out of excuses for hedging on Obamacare. Reconciliation offers a real chance - the only real chance currently on the table - to advance the health care debate and continue the fight for patient-centered reform.
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