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Published: Wednesday, December 28, 2016 @ 11:00 PM
When the new Congress convenes next Tuesday on January 3, 2017, Republicans will still be in control of both the House and Senate, but with their party ready to take over the White House later in the month, it presents a whole new opportunity for GOP lawmakers to push ahead with a raft of policy ideas.
And they are more than ready to move forward.
“We’re beside ourselves, I really don’t know how else to say it,” said Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), who told me it will make a big difference for the GOP Congress to pass legislation, knowing they have an ally in the White House who will sign their bills, not stand in the way.
“For years, I have felt like I have done nothing but spin my wheels,” Mullin added.
“It’s a very exciting time,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), who like many other GOP lawmakers, has never served in Congress with a Republican in the White House.
“We have an incoming President who agrees with our philosophy and wants to get government out of the way,” Loudermilk said.
Right out of the gate in January, expect Republicans to swiftly push legislation to repeal a big chunk of the Obama health law, as the GOP is ready to do that first, then figure out the best way that Obamacare should be replaced.
“Even most of the Democrats realize that what we have right now is not working, is not going to work,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).
Step one will be repeal, with step two still unclear – on what will actually take the place of the Affordable Care Act.
“We will end up where we need to be with an alternative to the ACA that works for people,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA).
Republicans have been trying in recent weeks to hammer out some kind of plan; the basics are there, but getting everyone on board with those details is something different.
What Republicans will do is use a process known as ‘budget reconciliation’ to repeal parts of the Obama health law. That plan cannot be stopped by a filibuster in the Senate, as only a majority is needed for approval.
It’s also a somewhat confusing process, even for Capitol Hill veterans.
First, the House and Senate must pass a ‘budget resolution’ – a budget framework that allows for a reconciliation measure. That plan allows for up to 50 hours of debate in the Senate, along with what’s known as a “Vote-a-rama,” where Senators vote on dozens and dozens of budget amendments.
I’ve been told the Senate may try to do that by no later than the end of the second week in January.
Approval of a final budget resolution would then allow for work to begin on an Obamacare repeal bill as part of a broader budget reconciliation measure.
One note for everyone – budget reconciliation cannot be used to repeal all of the Obama health law. You can remove big chunks of the plan, but not all of it.
The GOP reconciliation plan from 2016 put restrictions on the health insurance exchanges, phased out the subsidies to help people buy insurance, ended the tax penalties for those who did not buy insurance, ended various taxes from the health law, and phased out an expanded Medicaid program.
“It’s a partial repeal, first of all,” acknowledged Sen. Perdue of Georgia. “It’s not a total repeal – let’s get that out of the way.”
Republicans have discussed leaving in place certain parts of Obamacare – but those details remain fuzzy, as the GOP strategy will first be to repeal parts of the health law, and then move on to a replacement.
The 115th Congress is almost here – and it promises to be a very busy year in the halls of the House and Senate on health care and much, much more.