Commenter “Frog” asks:
…I do not understand.
If the Obamacare bill was passed in the Senate via reconciliation…, why cannot it be rescinded in the Senate via reconciliation? Is this more Alice In Wonderland?
The question is a reasonable one, and it highlights how very complex the legislative process often is. House and Senate (especially the Senate) have their own arcane and often puzzling rules and arcane and often puzzling strategies/tactics involving those rules. It makes the rest of us scratch our heads and doubt the motives and abilities of our legislators.
It’s not that those in Congress are such well-meaning geniuses, either. There’s plenty of room to doubt and plenty of reason to doubt. But sometimes there is a more innocuous (although complex) explanation for what they’re doing, and I submit that the GOP’s use of reconciliation to deal with Obamacare is one of those times.
The reconciliation process can only be used to pass bills that affect spending and revenue — budgetary matters, in other words. It was created in the 1970s to make it easier for Congress to keep a budget, by giving the Senate tools to more easily change laws regulating big mandatory spending programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and the like.
Last year, Republicans passed the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act, a repeal bill that uses the reconciliation process. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that all the parts of Obamacare that it repealed — Obamacare’s insurance subsidies, Medicaid expansion, the law’s tax increases, and its mandate to purchase coverage — could be dismantled through reconciliation…
There’s basically nothing that Democrats alone can do to stop this. Budget resolutions can’t be filibustered, so if Republicans vote to include reconciliation instructions for Obamacare repeal, there’s nothing the opposition can do about it. And, of course, they can’t filibuster the actual repeal bill; that’s the whole point of using reconciliation.
So if the plan doesn’t work, it’ll have to be because there are Republicans defections.
That was written in January, and of course the dissension in the Republican ranks is pretty clear right now.
If we have an Alice in Wonderland situation in terms of process (“curiouser and curiouser”), it’s because of the way the bill was passed in the first place and the way the Senate works. The GOP senators are constrained by a number of things, and not all of them have to do with the extreme difficulty of crafting a health care law that is not exorbitant, does not restrict liberty unduly, and yet doesn’t raise a furious hue and cry about gazillions of uninsured Americans. Some of the constraints have to do with the way Congress is structured and the necessity of getting around the filibuster—a filibuster that would give the Democrats the power to block any repeal that is not accomplished through reconciliation, and which prevents an outright and total repeal that doesn’t use reconciliation.
In other words, to answer Frog’s question (at least as I understand the question and the explanatory articles): full repeal cannot use the reconciliation process and would subject the bill to Democrats blocking it. The GOP is using the reconciliation process, which means the repeal is somewhat piecemeal in that it does not and cannot include all items, but it gets around the filibuster difficulty.
Now, some of you might say “Away with the filibuster entirely!” I don’t think the GOP is eager to do that, and it’s not just for lack of cojones. The filibuster, with its protection of the minority party, has stood the test of time to a large extent because each party knows it could be the minority next time. And to those who say “The Democrats would do it in a heartbeat, so the GOP must do it first!” I would answer that I sometimes think that myself, but I am given pause by the fact that the Democrats didn’t do it when sorely pressed during the time they were trying to pass Obamacare.
Why didn’t they do it then? Because (a) even they were afraid to cross that line for fear it would come back to haunt them; and (b) they felt they didn’t need to do it, because they could pretty much accomplish what they wanted through reconciliation.
I believe the Republicans are reasoning the same thing at the moment.