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Reconciliation Should Unite, Not Divide Conservatives

In May, Republicans voted for a budget agreement that “affirmed the use of reconciliation for the sole purpose of repealing the President’s job-killing health care law.” It was a position that united an all-too-often fractured party. The promise to repeal Obamacare in its entirety delivered Republicans the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014.

As we explained back in May, the case for full repeal via reconciliation is straightforward.

The process of drafting and passing a reconciliation measure through both chambers would serve as a trial run. And as we’ve seen in recent months, a trial run is certainly needed. There is ample evidence that a one-provision repeal of all of Obamacare would be allowed by Senate rules, but proving that case should not wait until 2017.

Equally as important, the effort would reassure voters of the Republican-controlled Congress’s commitment to sending a bill repealing all of Obamacare to the president’s desk in 2017 — when it would be signed into law.

And it would remind every insurance company, hospital, industry group and boutique lobbying firm with a vested interest in Obamacare that the law remains unsettled. As insurance companies contemplate leaving the Obamacare market, the continued uncertainty surrounding the law would ensure it did not calcify.

Unfortunately, the reconciliation bill passed by the House earlier this year falls far short of Republicans’ promise to their constituents. A new Congressional Research Services memo found the bill would leave 82-percent of Obamacare’s tax burden in place. Obamacare’s main two entitlement expansions – the Medicaid expansion and the exchange subsidies – would remain in place and unchanged. And Obamacare’s new insurance rules and regulations would remain intact.

This bill would NOT repeal major portions of Obamacare, as some suggest. Not even close.

Yet, most Republicans went along with this approach because many in the pro-life community were eager for a way to avoid a fight on the September or December government funding bills. Planned Parenthood is a wretched, immoral organization that should not receive another dime. But the fake fight on reconciliation would not accomplish such a goal.

Republican leaders used this opportunity to turn two important conservative policy priorities into competing agendas and divide the conservative movement. This is leadership-orchestrated conservative sectarianism at its very worst.

Party leaders split the conservative movement, pitting the Obamacare repeal coalition against pro-life activists, by offering a fig leaf. They pretend they could accomplish both goals through reconciliation, and by co-opting some in the pro-life movement eager for victories they were able to undermine the party’s long-held public commitment to fully repealing Obamacare.

As The Hill’s Alexander Bolton observed last week, there is a growing sense that GOP leaders are not “fully committed to a wholesale repeal of the law.” The reconciliation measure passed through the House is exhibit A. Bolton continues:

“It would be embarrassing, to say the least, if most of the Senate GOP conference voted for a repeal package that the party’s future nominee rejected as too weak.”

No conservative can sit on the sidelines as party elites content with managing the status quo divide us, and force us to fight for scraps on our respective issues. Right now, pro-life leaders are attacking the likes of Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Marco Rubio for their commitment to “fully repeal[ing] Obamacare pursuant to Senate rules.”

The elites eager to avoid fully repealing Obamacare and completely defunding Planned Parenthood are smiling. And laughing.

If pro-life leaders want to “pass strongest [reconciliation] bill possible with 51 Republican votes” they should join, not disparage, the Cruz-Lee-Rubio alliance. They should praise the likes of North Carolina’s  Mark Walker, not gin up primary threats. If they are genuine, pro-life leaders must tell Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that they will not support any reconciliation bill unless it “fully repeals Obamacare pursuant to Senate rules.” And we will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with leading pro-life groups in demanding the GOP leadership do everything they can to defund Planned Parenthood.

This is how conservatives win, by standing firm against leadership’s desire to divide and fragment the conservative base of the Republican Party. If we want 2017 to be as successful for conservatives as 2009 was for Barack Obama, we must get off the sidelines and unite around serious conservative policies.

Reconciliation isn’t a test for President Rubio or President Cruz – it is a test for the conservative movement, and one our nation cannot afford for us to fail.

Michael A. Needham is the chief executive officer of Heritage Action for America (heritageaction.com).

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