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Health Law Repeal Could Wait Until Next Year

By Niels Lesniewski, CQ Roll Call

August 24, 2015 -- The No. 3 Senate Republican hinted there may be no effort to use fast-track budget procedures to get a health law repeal to the president's desk this year.

During a broader interview about GOP messaging, Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune noted that when Democrats passed the sidecar to the law with a simple majority in the Senate through budget reconciliation, it was the calendar year after the relevant budget resolution was adopted.

"I think if we use reconciliation for Obamacare, I don't know if there's any particular rush to doing it. You know that's an issue that's going to be around for a while. It's not going away. And reconciliation has been used in the past, not only in the year in which the budget passed, but in the subsequent year," the South Dakota Republican said. "I mean, that's actually how the Democrats did Obamacare in 2010, because the budget was '09 and then they used the vehicle whenever that was, late spring of '10."

Thune emphasized that no decisions had been made, but he did say whenever that vote might happen (which would set up certain veto bait with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office) there was a good case for using the reconciliation bill for the repeal measure, to the extent allowable under the arcane budget rules, since bills that Obama might sign would likely need an abundance of Democrats anyway.

"The question of timing is one thing. The question of substance and content is another, and I think that that has yet to be decided, but you are right. We have a lot of people who want to see it used to repeal Obamacare," Thune said in the interview. "And I would say that's a very likely, you know, outcome, because if you use it for anything else—anything right now probably to get a presidential signature is going to have to have Democrats on board—and so the value of using reconciliation is being able to do something with 51 votes."

He said there was "a lot of pent up demand" among Republicans on both sides of the Capitol for such an effort, and no shortage of conservative activists and presidential candidates have made similar calls, with some already outlining their own repeal plans.

With the executive and legislative branches split between Democrats and Republicans, the only real exception might be some kind of big deal that the left and right flanks are reluctant to accept, leading it to have short of 60 votes to overcome a filibuster threat.

"The only thing would be if you had a tax reform bill that drew 51 from the middle," Thune said. "There are exceptions to what I'm saying, but by and large, I think reconciliation is going to be used at a time you have a president of your own party and you're trying to push through some major legislative initiative."

But any sort of big fiscal deal or tax code overhaul like that would be the kind of measure that would assuredly inflame the conservative base and more than likely need Democratic votes to carry the day in the House of Representatives—all factors that make using the reconciliation bullet for a veto-bail bill cutting off as much of the 2010 law the most attractive option.

Given the reality that the repeal effort is mainly about setting the stage for the 2016 elections, delaying the effort into next year has a certain logic too, putting it before voters closer to election day.

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