The Reconciliation Distraction

Just three weeks after voting $40 billion of deficit financing for Obamacare, which was cheerfully signed by President Obama, Republican Congressional leaders are returning to the reconciliation distraction.

Instead of actually proposing an alternative to Obamacare, Republican Congressional leaders believe they can continue to convince us they are committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare by executing various parliamentary gymnastics that give the illusion of action.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the reconciliation bill (H.R. 3762) would cut $1.4 trillion of Obamacare spending, mostly on payments to health insurers via Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges, for the ten years through 2025. It also cuts $1 trillion of Obamacare taxes, for a net increase in the deficit of a little less than $400 billion. It does nothing to Obamacare’s federalization of the regulation of health insurance.

That is all to the good, except for one thing: President Obama is guaranteed to veto the bill if Congress passes it. What is the point?

“Reconciliation” refers to the parliamentary procedure by which the Democratic-majority Senate passed Obamacare in 2010. It usually takes 60 (out of a maximum 100) votes to invoke cloture, which allows a bill to come to the floor for a vote. However, some bills that have only budgetary effects can be brought to the floor via reconciliation, which means only 50 votes are required. The passing of Senator Ted Kennedy and election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate from Massachusetts cost the Democratic caucus its 60th vote. So, the majority had to scramble around to pass the bill through reconciliation. (That is one reason why the bill is so poorly written.)

An officer of the Senate, named the parliamentarian, decides whether a bill can be reconciled or not. One might think that the entire 2010 Affordable Care Act could be repealed through reconciliation, but apparently not.

So, the current Republican Senate majority has put as many budgetary items in the reconciliation bill as will pass muster with the parliamentarian in 2015. The bill passed the Senate with 52 votes in early December, and will like be passed by the House of Representatives when taken up in January.

After which it will be vetoed by the President; and Republican leaders will claim victory. If Republican leaders were to admit that this is the best they can do if they have a Republican president in 2017 – to repeal Obamacare’s tax and spending instead of the entire bill, including its regulatory over-reach – that might be understandable.

However, that is not how they are framing it. Instead, they propose we accept this utterly symbolic gesture as a serious step towards repeal. To do this so soon after deficit-funding Obamacare for real should embarrass these politicians. Further, when we consider how much valuable legislative time was spent on this bill instead of crafting an alternative health reform that gives every American free choice in health care, it is a very frustrating spectacle.

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For the pivotal alternative to Obamacare, please see Independent Institute’s book, A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman.

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