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House Sends Reconciliation Package to Senate

By Melissa Attias, CQ Roll Call

October 23, 2015 -- A reconciliation package that would scrap parts of the health care law and block federal funding for Planned Parenthood for one year is on its way to the Senate after House Republicans voted to advance it Friday.

The House passed the measure (HR 3762) 240-189, despite objections from the conservative group Heritage Action for America on the grounds it doesn't fully repeal the health law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152). Seven Republicans voted against the measure while one Democrat, Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, voted for it.

The White House has already said that President Barack Obama will veto the package, but Republicans have been touting the use of the expedited budget process as a way to get legislation to his desk. Reconciliation allows a measure to advance through the Senate with a simple majority rather than the usual 60-vote requirement.

"I'm saddened that reconciliation is a word that folks have to go and look up and learn, but it is the only way, the only way in divided government that the people's voice can be heard," Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., said on the House floor. "There is no other procedure in the United States Congress that allows 51 percent of America to prevail."

The package would strike the health law mandates on individuals to buy health coverage and on employers to offer it to workers or face penalties, as well as its taxes on medical devices and high-cost "Cadillac" employer-sponsored plans. It also would eliminate the law's fund for prevention and public health activities and a still-unenforced requirement for large employers to automatically enroll new full-time employees in coverage. Finally, it would defund Planned Parenthood for one year while providing more money to community health centers.

A provision that would have repealed the health law's Medicare cost-cutting board was removed from the package when the House adopted the rule governing floor debate (H Res 483). Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., said the move was intended to preserve the reconciliation bill's special fast-track status across the Capitol in response to feedback from the Senate parliamentarian.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the Senate plans to take up the legislation but the timing is unclear and it's expected to face hurdles.

GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, the latter two of whom are presidential hopefuls, issued a statement Thursday announcing they will oppose the package if it "cannot be amended so that it fully repeals Obamacare pursuant to Senate rules." They said the House bill that only repeals pieces of the law "simply isn't good enough.

"Each of us campaigned on a promise to fully repeal Obamacare and a reconciliation bill is the best way to send such legislation to President Obama's desk," the trio wrote.

With a 54-vote majority, only three GOP senators can vote against the legislation for it to reach President Obama's desk if Democrats and the chamber's two independents all oppose it as expected. That leaves no room for other Republicans break ranks, including some who may be resistant because of the language targeting Planned Parenthood.

"Senator Collins opposes defunding Planned Parenthood  because it provides important family planning, cancer screening, and basic preventive health care services to millions of women across the country," Annie Clark, spokeswoman for Maine Republican Susan Collins, said in an email. "For many women, Planned Parenthood clinics provide the only health care services they receive and, in many states, community health clinics are not in a position to take over the high volume patients who would be harmed by ending funding."

Across the aisle, Democrats could also try to raise procedural challenges under a Senate rule named for the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., that puts limits on the use of reconciliation. If a senator raises a point of order that a provision violates the Byrd rule, 60 votes are required to overcome it.


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