The leader of the Senate’s conservative bloc told members of the Senate Steering Committee Friday that the American Health Care Act, which Speaker Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) crafted in private meetings outside of regular order, fails to deliver the Obamacare repeal and replace bill Republicans promised the American people.
“The House leadership’s health care bill simply is not the Obamacare repeal bill we’ve been waiting for,” wrote Sen. Mike Lee (R.-Utah), who took over the committee after the 2014 election cycle. “It is a missed opportunity and a step in the wrong direction.”
“It doesn’t repeal the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. It doesn’t repeal the Obamacare regulations that drive up the cost of premiums,” he said. “But it does create a brand-new spending program whose size and cost are entirely unclear.” The new entitlement is a program of tax credits available to Americans, whether or not they pay income tax.
Lee pointed out in his regular newsletter that carries the title “The Laudable Pursuit” that Ryan said Jan. 6, 2016: “For five years, Senate Democrats have blocked our efforts to repeal Obamacare…That ends today.”
Ryan was describing the Obamacare repeal bill that passed both houses of Congress and was sent to President Barack Obama’s desk for his veto. Ryan said:
With this vote, we are keeping a promise and putting a bill that repeals Obamacare and defunds Planned Parenthood on the president’s desk. This budget reconciliation bill, which would reduce the federal deficit by a half trillion dollars, forces the president to confront the failures of Obamacare head on. But most importantly, it clears the path to repealing this law with a Republican president in 2017 and replacing it with a truly patient-centered health care system. We will not back down from this fight to defend the sanctity of life and make quality health care coverage achievable for all Americans.
Now, in 2017, with Republican control of the White House and Congress, Republicans should have sent the same repeal bill to President Donald Trump’s desk weeks ago, Lee said.
“Unfortunately, the House of Representatives is now debating a bill that not only fails to repeal as much of Obamacare as they voted to do in 2015, but it also affirms much of Obamacare’s current structure, thus making any future efforts to replace the system that much more difficult,” the senator said.
Not only is it a bad bill, it is also vulnerable to the “Byrd Bath” Republicans hoped to avoid by using the budget reconciliation process.
The Byrd Bath is when Senate parliamentarians strip away provisions of a bill that violate the “Byrd Rule,” named for Sen. Robert Byrd (D.-W.V.), who set down the dictum that for a budget bill to have immunity or privilege from the 60-vote requirement to end debate, it must be a legitimate budget bill focused on spending and revenues.
Because Ryan deviated from the 2015-2016 repeal bill that passed Byrd Rule muster, once it emerges from its bath, it will be a crippled bill, Lee said.
“Now, the 2015 bill is not perfect. It might be improved during a Senate vote-a-rama when the Senate parliamentarian might be convinced that Obamacare’s insurance regulations do in fact have a big impact on federal spending, almost every economist agrees that Obamacare’s insurance regulations drive up the price of premiums, which are subsidized by federal revenues,” he said.
“But it might not,” he said. “Either way, there will be a lot more work to do on health care reform. Work that can’t be finished in the narrow window of time between now and when the Senate needs to spend floor time confirming Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in April.”
There is still time before the Gorsuch confirmation begins, he said.
“So, let’s fulfill our promise to repeal Obamacare immediately and then take our time and make sure we get health-care reform right,” he said.
“Let’s pass the 2015 repeal bill that Republicans in both houses of Congress voted for just 15 months ago,” he said. “Once Obamacare has been properly sent to the dustbin of history then we can begin a deliberative, open, and honest process to reform our nation’s health care system.”