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Reid: Reconciliation Bill Can't Repeal Health Care Law Mandates

By Paul M. Krawzak, CQ Roll Call

November 12, 2015 -- Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday disputed GOP claims that the House-passed reconciliation bill can be rewritten in a way to repeal major portions of the 2010 health care law.

"The Parliamentarian has ruled that Obamacare cannot be repealed through reconciliation, period," a statement from the Nevada Democrat's office said. "The idea put forth by Senator McConnell's office that a so-called 'technical fix' can save Obamacare repeal in reconciliation is simply false."

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough sent a memo to Senate leaders Tuesday telling them the proposed repeals of the individual and employer mandates in the health care law were a violation of the Senate's Byrd rule.

While a reconciliation bill can be passed with a simple majority, it takes 60 votes to waive a Byrd rule violation, which is likely impossible given Democratic opposition to tampering that much with the health overhaul.

MacDonough's ruling followed a meeting Nov. 6 in which Republican and Democratic staff from leadership offices and several Senate committees presented their arguments to MacDonough on the House-passed reconciliation bill (HR 3762).

The primary savings in the House reconciliation bill come from repealing requirements that individuals buy health insurance and large employers offer health insurance to their workers. The bill also would repeal other elements of the health care law including taxes on high cost health insurance plans and medical devices and a public health prevention fund.

The statement from Reid's office said even though Republicans "may be able to make narrowly tailored changes that primarily have a budgetary effect, any fix that repeals the individual or employer mandates will require 60 votes and therefore will not pass."

The Byrd rule bars what is called "extraneous matter" in reconciliation bills, including provisions where the budgetary effects are "merely incidental" to policy changes.

"Based on the Parliamentarian's ruling, the Senate reconciliation bill will have to be more supportive of Obamacare's mandates than the House-passed bill," the Reid statement said.

Donald Stewart, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that Republicans will offer a substitute amendment that will both remove the violations of the Byrd rule and preserve the repeals in the House bill. If the substitute amendment passes muster with the parliamentarian, Republicans would be able to pass it without Democratic support as long as they lost no more than three members out of their 54-seat majority.

The Reid statement said the parliamentarian's decision "almost certainly rules out one idea currently being floated among Republicans: to repeal the mandates temporarily now and allow them to come back into effect in the future. Even this change will almost certainly require 60 votes and therefore will not happen."

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