Senate GOP Finds More Time to Revive Obamacare Repeal Bill

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By Alex Ruoff and Colleen Murphy

Senate Republicans have more wiggle room than initially thought to revive a filibuster-proof Obamacare repeal bill, even as they turn their attention to tax reform, lawmakers and staffers told Bloomberg BNA.

Republicans used a fiscal year 2017 budget resolution as the vehicle for their health-care push, a strategy that lets them avoid the Senate filibuster and coordination with Democrats. But the resolution could still be used after Sept. 30, even though the fiscal year ends at that time, former Senate staffers told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 1. That gives Republicans more time to find a path to 50 votes, meaning their repeal effort may not be dead after all.

“It does not die on Sept. 30,” G. William Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former Senate staffer, told Bloomberg BNA, noting filibuster-proof reconciliation bills expire only when a new budget agreement is passed. “I think we’re a long way off from that.”

Still, the extra time isn’t a guarantee it will happen. Republicans had planned to pass a fiscal year 2018 budget resolution and use it as the vehicle for tax reform.

To make both legislative goals happen, there will have to be some trade-offs.

Republicans could decide to abandon the reconciliation strategy for tax reform or have the Senate Finance Committee attach tax reform, with required savings, to the fiscal year 2017 resolution, Hoagland said.

Republicans aren’t expected to try to pass their repeal bill again before they leave for their August break. Many want to turn their attention to tax reform, their next major legislative battle.

Hearings to Come

GOP leaders will hold hearings on ways to improve individual health insurance markets in September and work with Democrats on short-term fixes. However, Republicans will also have months to work on building consensus on a repeal bill.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold hearings on stabilizing the individual health insurance markets in 2017 and 2018, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), head of the panel, told Bloomberg BNA.

The goal, he said, is to find a bipartisan fix to rising insurance premiums and help for the small segment of the market who have little or no insurers to choose from.

“The most urgent need right now is to stabilize the individual market,” he said.

Many conservatives are eager to move on from repeal and seek a bipartisan solution to the problems facing the Affordable Care Act. However, if bipartisan talks fail or Republicans find consensus on a repeal bill, they will likely turn back to reconciliation , lawmakers said recently.

“Reconciliation is still available, probably through the end of the fiscal year,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told reporters.

Tax Timing

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said his staffers have speculated health care and tax reform could move on the same budget resolution. But there isn’t broad agreement among members on the path forward—and reconciliation is notoriously complicated.

The House, Senate, and White House have been meeting for months to pre-negotiate a tax reform bill that can pass both chambers.

In the White House’s proposed timeline, a tax bill would pass the House in October and the Senate would approve it in November, Marc Short, White House director of legislative affairs, said at a July 31 event sponsored by Koch-funded groups Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners.

Those pre-negotiations could come in handy if Republican leaders decide to put tax reform on the fiscal year 2017 instruction, and have the Senate Finance Committee—not the House Ways and Means Committee—take the lead, Hoagland said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bna.com; Colleen Murphy in Washington at cmurphy@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at bbroderick@bna.com

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