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With solid control of both the House and the Senate, one of the clearest mandates delivered to the Republicans in Congress was to repeal the onerous takeover of health care known as ObamaCare. This year, the new Congress has the greatest opportunity yet to fulfill that mandate – by using the budget process known as reconciliation. As millions of Americans are forced to pay a fine for not buying health insurance, and with millions more still struggling with high premiums and deductibles, there is no reason why Republicans should not use a tactic that can place a full repeal of the so-called “Affordable Care Act” upon the president’s desk.
Reconciliation is a well-established procedure from the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which allows Congress to expedite a bill that makes reforms to spending and taxes. Most crucially, a reconciliation bill only needs a simple majority vote in both chambers to pass – meaning it bypasses the filibuster in the Senate. Democrats used this technique to get crucial portions of ObamaCare through the Senate in 2010.
Weak-kneed Republicans will try to argue that using reconciliation won’t work – that it can’t apply to ObamaCare – but the facts state otherwise. It is true that the rules governing reconciliation can be difficult to navigate – especially in the Senate, where the “Byrd Rule” governs what is and is not allowed in a reconciliation bill. This rule is meant to ensure that only items covered under a budget resolution – taxes and spending – can be passed using reconciliation. But given that the central structure of ObamaCare consists of spending and tax code items (all of the subsidies and mandates are handled through the tax code, for example), repealing most or all of the law should survive what budget insiders call the “Byrd Bath”.
Unimpressed by the opportunity to actually place ObamaCare repeal onto the president’s desk, some Republicans want to use reconciliation to pass some sort of tax reform package. While a major tax reform proposal would be awesome, there are some major reasons why it would be a waste of the controversial reconciliation process.
First, if the purpose of advancing tax reform is to actually pass legislation, then using reconciliation ought to be unnecessary. After all, if President Obama is willing to sign a bill, one would assume that at least 6 Democrats would be willing to join him in delivering the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.
More cynically, based upon all of the rhetoric and actions of this administration, it is difficult to believe that President Obama would accept any tax bill that did not involve a massive redistribution of wealth. His 2015 State of the Union Address made perfectly clear that his priorities are still making everyone “pay their fair share” in order to fund endless entitlement programs. Expecting this administration to accept a truly fair and flat tax reform would be a tremendous victory of hope over experience.
ObamaCare remains deeply unpopular, and will certainly become more so as millions of Americans are fined for refusing to purchase health insurance for the first time. Now that they control both chambers of Congress, Republicans would be fools to waste a real chance to make a statement by repealing ObamaCare, as they have promised to do since it passed in 2010.