The parliamentarian dodge

I wrote here about how congressional Republicans are subscribing to the view that key parts of Obamacare cannot be repealed through “reconciliation” — i.e., without 60 votes. This view holds that the GOP cannot repeal the price-hiking, competition-destroying regulations that form the core of Obamacare because the parliamentarian, pursuant to the Byrd Rule, won’t allow such repeal through the budget reconciliation process.

I took issue with that view. First, the parliamentarian is not empowered to “veto” legislation. She can make rulings, but they can be overturned by a simple majority vote.

Second, there would be a sound argument for overturning a ruling that the Obamacare regulations can’t be repealed through reconciliation. The regs in question are part of a single, integrated Obamacare scheme. It is the scheme, not each and every element of it, that must pass the Byrd Rule test by having a budget effect — and surely it does.

Daniel Horowitz at Conservative Review explodes the basis for a “parliamentarians veto” over repeal of Obamacare regulations. He links to an article by Charles Blahous of the Manhattan Institute citing a statement by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that its projected savings estimates for a repeal of Obamacare are directly affected by whether the Obamacare insurance regulations are repealed. Although it can be argued that these effects are “incidental” to non-budgetary considerations, Blahous notes that the Senate has already accepted, during prior repeal efforts, that similar effects bring legislation within what’s allowed under reconciliation.

Moreover, Horowitz shows that the current repeal bill being pushed by Speaker Ryan repeals certain Obamacare regulations, thus undercutting the claim that the Byrd Rule precludes this. He writes:

The fine print of their own bill self-incriminates their contention that regulations cannot be repealed through the budget reconciliation. . .Two of the 24 [Obamacare] regulations [listed by the CBOl are actually repealed or modified in this GOP bill. They are called “actuarial value” and age-rating restrictions. . . .

It’s not important to get into the details of what these regulations do, but the inclusion of them in the GOP bill demonstrates incontrovertibly that when Speaker Paul Ryan. . .wants to stick regulation repeal into budget reconciliation he can. There are also several other extraneous provisions in the bill that don’t have a positive budgetary effect, yet Republicans don’t seem to worry about the parliamentarian striking them out of the process.

Why, then, are congressional Republicans preemptively surrendering to the parliamentary — or, more precisely, to what they think she might do? One theory is that they don’t want a true, market-based repeal measure because they are afraid too many people will lose coverage in the short-term, and they fear the political fallout.

Republicans are promising to push such a measure after they bring about the “repeal” contained in the Ryan plan. But they are prepared (if not eager) to accept the view that the second bill needs 60 votes. In other words, they expect the second repeal to fail.

Here’s how this may play out. Republicans pass a “repeal” bill that doesn’t repeal the key Obamacare regulations. This “repeal” doesn’t make anyone happy. Republicans then propose true repeal. Democrats block it.

Republicans blame Democrats for their unwillingness to fix the mess. Democrats blame Republicans for creating the mess through the initial repeal.

Americans suffer. Americans take it out on Republican.

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