Heritage Call Notes 12/19/16
The House and Senate continue their Christmas Recess this week. Next week’s Sentinel Call is cancelled for the Holidays, but we’ll resume the call starting on January 2nd. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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Obamacare “Two Budget” Repeal Strategy: Since 2010, Republicans promised to fully repeal Obamacare, campaigned on full repeal, and voted over 60 times to repeal parts or all of the disastrous healthcare law. Earlier this year, Congress used a filibuster-proof process known as budget reconciliation to pass an Obamacare repeal bill that was ultimately vetoed by the President. But now that voters elected to keep Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress and gave Republicans the White House, Congress can use the same budget reconciliation process to successfully and fully repeal Obamacare once and for all in a Trump administration. There are no more excuses to be had.
Thanks to conservatives who successfully prevented Congress from passing a fiscal year 2017 budget that failed to lower spending, Republicans can now use that same budget and reconciliation process to repeal Obamacare with a simple majority and have it ready for President-elect Trump to sign soon after he takes office. Ideally, Congress should pass a one-sentence reconciliation bill that fully repeals Obamacare and sends it to President Trump’s desk by inauguration. The next best option would be for Congress to take the reconciliation bill that was vetoed earlier this year (H.R. 3762), and pass it again with additional language repealing the Obamacare insurance mandates – a central reason health insurance premiums continue to rise. The third and minimal option would be for Congress to simply re-pass H.R. 3762, which does not include the repeal of insurance mandates and other important provisions.
Some members of Congress are expressing concerns about the ability to fully repeal Obamacare through the process of reconciliation because reconciliation must strictly deal with the budget. These concerns are misplaced for many reasons:
1.) First, all of Obamacare, including the insurance regulation provisions, have a budgetary impact. In fact, Obamacare insurance regulations are the main reason why premiums continue to rise and require taxpayer funded subsidies. This point is further underscored by the fact that the Obama administration arguedinsurance regulations are inseparable from the rest of Obamacare before the Supreme Court in King v. Burwell.
2.) Second, precedent already exists for a one-provision reconciliation bill that fully repeals a piece of legislation. Congress enacted welfare reform under Bill Clinton in 1996 by repealing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) under Title IV-A of the Social Security Act in 1996 with one provision and enacting a single block grant under the new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
3.) Third, if a senator raises a Byrd Rule point of order against a provision repealing the insurance regulations due to budgetary concerns, the Senate Parliamentarian’s word is not final. It is ultimately up to the presiding officer, and ultimately, the Senate as a whole. The parliamentarian is an employee of the Senate with the job of providing advice to the presiding officer on historical precedents, and the Senate could override this obstacle with a simple majority vote.
After Obamacare is completely repealed, Congress can then pass a second budget for fiscal year 2018 that lowers spending levels and achieves other conservative priorities. Republicans should debate and pass a series of conservative, free-market healthcare reforms that enact consumer choice, strengthen the doctor-patient relationship and lower costs. This two budget strategy will ensure that momentum for repeal does not stall. It also provides ample time for individuals who have insurance through the Obamacare exchanges to transition back to the individual market without losing coverage.
Thankfully, Republicans are beginning to unite around this strategy to ensure momentum for Obamacare repeal does not die. House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) told CQ, “I think having the opportunity to have two reconciliation bills as opposed to one, two reconciliation processes as opposed to one, is wise.” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) also endorsed this strategy telling Politico it would be the best way to avoid a filibuster from Senate Democrats. Republicans have promised Obamacare repeal for five years and now possess the political capital to do it. The only remaining question is do they have the will to follow through. In Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s own words: “It’s (Obamacare repeal) pretty high on our agenda as you know. I would be shocked if we didn’t move forward and keep our commitment to the American people.”
End of the Year Wrap-up: Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed a short term Continuing Resolution (H.R. 2028) funding the federal government through April of next year by a final vote of 326 to 96. After a failed, last minute effort by Senate Democrats to include a longer taxpayer bailout for retired coal miner’s health benefits in the bill, the Senate finally passed the CR late Friday by a vote of 63-36. President Obama signed the bill on Saturdaymorning, preventing a government shutdown and officially ending the 2016 lame-duck session of Congress.
The end of the lame-duck is a win for conservative activists and Sentinels across the country. We successfully stopped the Senate from confirming Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, removed a provision forcing women to sign up for the draft in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), prevented Congress from passing a massive omnibus right before Christmas, prevented an extension of Obamacare bailouts of insurance companies during the lame duck, and thwarted an Internet sales tax bill from receiving a vote.
While these are important victories, Republicans must be vigilant to ensure that no backdoor payments are made to insurance companies between now and inauguration and also prepare a budget reconciliation that fully repeals Obamacare. Additionally, the threat of President Obama making a Supreme Court recess appointment is now officially off the table as the Senate will remain in pro forma session throughout the month of December.
Earmarks: A week after the resounding election of a President who campaigned to “drain the swamp” and end cronyism in Washington, D.C., Republicans in Congress attempted to lift the six-year old ban on earmarks behind closed doors. Earmarks are a form of pork-barrel spending politicians use to pass bad spending bills and redirect taxpayer dollars back to their own districts or states. Republican members including Reps. John Culberson of Texas, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Tom Rooney of Florida and Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania were the four leading proponents of lifting the ban.
Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham issued a statement against lifting the ban before the vote took place. According to multiple news reports, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) tabled the earmark proposal just before it was about to pass, but Ryan promised to create an internal working group to study the issue and propose a way forward by March 31 next year. Conservatives must continue to hold the line on earmarks and be prepared to fight for its defeat early next year. Sentinels are urged to encourage their congressmen to support the current ban on earmarks.
Click here to read Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham’s full statement on preserving the earmark ban.
Two-Speech Rule: In November 2013, Senate Democrats used the so-called “nuclear option” to eliminate the ability of Senators to filibuster all federal administrative appointments and judicial nominees with the exception of Supreme Court nominees. Now that Republicans maintained their Senate majority and won the White House, some are calling for Senate Republicans to use the nuclear option to confirm President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court and pass many upcoming conservative legislative priorities. However, other procedural means exist to move conservative priorities through the Senate without using the nuclear option.
Senate Republicans should move forward by enforcing the so-called “two-speech rule” as a strategy to move their conservative agenda. Under Senate rules, each Senator is limited to a maximum of two floor speeches in the same legislative day. A legislative day begins when the Senate meets after an adjournment and ends when the Senate adjourns next, which could last as short as one day or as long as multiple months.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could use the “two-speech rule” to evade a Senate Democratic filibuster and confirm a conservative justice or pass legislation with a simple majority. This strategy would allow Senate Republicans to push through their agenda without changing any of the Senate’s existing rules. It would also clearly demonstrate to the American people that the Senate minority is being obstructionist and playing politics instead of doing its job.
Click here to read more about the two-speech strategy on the Daily Signal.