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The budget resolution intended to pave the way for an eventual vote to partially repeal the Affordable Care Act gives two key Senate committees until Jan. 27 to put their proposals into legislative language.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) unveiled the text of the budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 3) on Jan. 3, the first day of the 115th Congress, and highlighted its importance as a way of ensuring the partial repeal of the ACA, one of congressional Republicans’ top priorities this year.
Debate on the budget plan is expected to begin Jan. 4, according to David Popp, communications director for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Debate on budget resolutions is generally limited to 50 hours on the floor, though post-debate offering of amendments adds extra time to that limit.
“Insurers are withdrawing from markets across the country, leaving many families with fewer choices and less access to care than they had before—the opposite of what the law promised,” Enzi said in a statement. “Today, we take the first steps to repair the nation’s broken health care system, removing Washington from the equation and putting control back where it belongs: with patients, their families, and their doctors.”
Adopting a budget resolution in common between the House and Senate is the first major move by Republicans toward scrapping President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law. Under a process known as reconciliation, later legislation can be spun out from the budget resolution that will be immune to the Senate’s filibuster, thus allowing passage in the Senate with only 51 votes. Republicans hold 52 seats in the chamber.
In the new budget resolution, two Senate committees—the tax-writing Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, were given reconciliation instructions. Both panels were instructed to come up with legislation to reduce the 10-year federal deficit by $1 billion each by Jan. 27. The resulting legislative language will be melded together by the Budget Committee and sent to Senate floor afterward.
While avoiding a filibuster in the House is not an issue, the resolution also provided similar reconciliation instructions to the House Ways and Means and the Energy and Commerce committees, also with a Jan. 27 target date.
A similar approach worked in 2016, when Obama vetoed a reconciliation bill (H.R. 3762) using the same process. But with Donald Trump taking office Jan. 20, Republicans see the reconciliation process as the easiest way to repeal major parts of the ACA and give Trump an early political victory.
That Jan. 27 deadline could fall by the wayside, though, unless Republicans manage to narrow differences over how long any transition period from repeal to a new health-care approach takes. While the budget resolution sets the deadline for committees to report, reconciliation bills in the past have sometimes been late yet still received protection from filibusters.
Another hurdle will be the potential cost of an ACA replacement. In the House, a package of new rules to govern the House floor in the 115th Congress exempted legislation to repeal or replace the act from a new prohibition on bills that would cause mandatory spending—the category that includes Social Security and Medicare—to grow by more than $5 billion in later decades outside the budget window.
The Senate budget resolution includes similar language, which would exempt ACA-related legislation from existing Senate parliamentary points of order against increasing short- or long-term deficits.
“The inclusion of these exemptions suggests an expectation that the costs of replacement legislation may exceed the savings from repeal by more than $10 billion in some of the years within the 10-year budget window, and that the combination of repeal and replace legislation may increase the long-term deficit beyond the ten-year budget window,” the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said in a blog posting on its website.
The tables in the budget resolution itself appear to reflect a budget approach close to what is expected to happen under law. The deficit for fiscal 2017, which began Oct. 1, 2016, is projected to be $582.6 billion. In August, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the 2017 deficit would be $594 billion. By comparison, under the assumptions of the fiscal 2016 budget adopted in May 2015, the 2017 deficit was projected to be only $206.1 billion.
Similarly, the deficit in the final year of the budget, 2026, is projected to be $1.009 trillion, in contrast to the $295.8 billion surplus projected for 2025 in the previous budget.
Republicans have touted the budget plan as a way to scrap the health-care law rather than as a vehicle for fiscal policy that is its usual purpose.
In the resolution, the public debt would rise to $29.126 trillion in 2026, up from $19.977 trillion it stood at as of Dec. 31, 2016, but close to the $28.207 trillion the CBO forecasted in August.
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The text of the budget resolution as released by Enzi is available at http://src.bna.com/k7G.
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