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Bare-Bones Budget Would Quickly Dismantle Obamacare

By Paul M. Krawzak, CQ Roll Call

December 2, 2016 -- Republican leaders racing to repeal the health care law early next year envision using what is described as a new, stripped-down fiscal 2017 budget resolution.

Its sole purpose would be to act as a vehicle for the expedited budget reconciliation process, which means it would green-light a separate repeal bill that could then whiz through the Senate with just 51 votes. "It's just the most expeditious and practical thing to do," House Budget Chairman Tom Price told CQ when asked why a lean framework, rather than the usual full tax and spending proposal, is under consideration.

Meanwhile, House Republicans meeting on Friday morning discussed the outlines of a continuing resolution that would fund the government past Dec. 9, when the current CR (PL 114-223) expires. Several lawmakers and leadership aides said the House seems to be moving toward a stopgap written at the fiscal 2017, $1.07 trillion level, but they said no decisions have been made.

The alternative would be to have the CR reflect the tighter fiscal 2016, $1.067 trillion spending limit.

On the budget resolution, Price, a Georgia Republican, said a minimalist document could help avoid the disagreements that prevented the first fiscal 2017 budget (H Con Res 125) approved by the House Budget Committee from making it to the floor earlier this year.

GOP leaders are looking at marking up and passing the streamlined budget soon after the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3. Once that is done, Republicans could draft and pass separate reconciliation legislation to repeal as much of the health care law as they can in late January or early February. Some provisions of the law could not be rolled back through reconciliation.

The timing makes sense because the House and Senate Budget committees have to get to work on a fiscal 2018 budget resolution in February if they hope to adopt it by the April 15 deadline.

GOP leaders and aides said no decisions have been made on exact dates for work on the budget resolution.

Senate First?

It is also an open question whether the House and Senate would each mark up and pass its own budget resolution, the usual practice, or whether the Senate would go first and send its budget to the House.

In an interview with CQ, Price described the budget under development as a "pared-down one so that it's essentially a vehicle for the reconciliation process." Previous budget resolutions have run 100 pages in length as a result of numerous budget enforcement provisions, reserve funds and policy statements.

This one could be extremely short.

Under budget law, the fiscal blueprint is only required to contain certain numbers such as spending and revenue limits, and levels of deficits or surpluses and debt for a five-year period. The budget resolution that is being contemplated could limit itself to those numbers, plus the reconciliation instructions directing House and Senate committees to draw up legislation to repeal the health care law.

The expedited reconciliation process allows budget-related legislation to advance in the Senate with 51 votes rather than the usual three-fifths majority. Democrats used reconciliation to help pass the Affordable Care Act when they controlled Congress in 2010.

Apart from the reconciliation directive, the most important element in the GOP budget will be the topline discretionary number, which controls how much can be appropriated for military, international and domestic programs.

That number was the source of a huge internal fight that derailed the House's first fiscal 2017 budget resolution, which was approved in committee but never had enough support to be brought to the floor for a vote. Republicans were divided over whether the topline should be $1.07 trillion, the spending limit allowed in the 2015 budget agreement (PL 114-74), or $1.04 trillion, an earlier limit established by the 2011 deficit reduction law (PL 112-25).

Price said the budget resolution topline "will be at whatever we pass in the continuing resolution."

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said earlier this week the Senate might go first with its budget resolution. But on Wednesday, Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi said the resolution could be written up in both Budget committees at the same time. "It has to pass both sides, and usually every bill starts independently on each end," the Wyoming Republican said.

Price said Thursday the Senate "was desirous of going first." He cited a longer time it takes to pass a budget in the Senate and the need to abide by stricter rules as reasons. "We're still working through the logistics of that," he said. "Obviously the parliamentarian over there has some unique perspectives."

The Senate Budget Committee never considered a fiscal 2017 resolution, instead relying on a provision in law that allowed Enzi to file budget numbers permitting the appropriations process to move forward.

Replacement Next

Republicans in both chambers anticipate quick action on repealing the health care law next year.

"The American people expect us to," Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander said Thursday. He added that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also wants to repeal the law early in the year.

Alexander, R-Tenn., cautioned it would take time to then write legislation to replace the health law, perhaps two or three years.

"One of the lessons of Obamacare was they tried to go too far too fast," he told reporters. "And they tried to make too many decisions in Washington, D.C."

Alexander said GOP lawmakers "want to start immediately but it will take a matter of years to fully replace and rebuild the health care system that has taken six years to damage."

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