Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney doubled down on his pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act during last night’s Republican presidential debate, pledging to eliminate the entire law through the reconciliation process, a special procedure that allows the Senate to bypass the filibuster and pass spending bills with 51, instead of 60 votes. After relying on the process to pass President Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, Republicans attacked Democrats’ efforts to pass a small bill of health care “fixes” in 2010 by claiming that it undermined the democratic system, but have now had another change of heart.
“We have to repeal Obamacare and I will do that on day two with a reconciliation bill because, as you know, it was passed through reconciliation, 51 votes, we can get rid of it with 51 votes,” Romney claimed at last night’s event. “We have to get rid of Obamacare and return to the states the responsibility.” Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum immediately challenged Romney’s proposal, correctly noting that the rules of the reconciliation process would exclude key provisions of the law like the individual mandate and exchanges that don’t directly affect spending:
HUNTSMAN: It’s disingenuous to — to just say that you can — you can waive it all away. The mandate will be in place. The IRS is already planning on 19,500 new employees to administer that mandate. That will stay, and that’s the ruinous part of — of Obamacare. And that — Mitt, your plan is not going to do anything.
ROMNEY: I said we had to repeal it. Did you miss that?
HUNTSMAN: No. It doesn’t — it doesn’t repeal the mandate.
ROMNEY: No, no, I said I’m going to repeal it through reconciliation.
SANTORUM: Through reconciliation, you can repeal the taxes, you can repeal the spending, and therefore, the mandate has no teeth, because there’s no tax penalty if you don’t enforce it.
Romney seemed unaware of the technicalities of reconciliation and unfamiliar with its history in health care reform. Democrats passed the House and Senate versions of the Affordable Care Act through regular order in late 2009, but didn’t have the votes to approve a merged bill after losing Ted Kennedy’s seat to Sen. Scott Brown’s (R-MA). As a result, the House agreed to pass the Senate version after assurances from Harry Reid that the Senate would use the reconciliation process to make small spending changes to the bill sought by House Democrats.
Republicans described the process as a “convoluted legislative charade” and claimed that it is “an extraordinary and unprecedented abuse” that is “not good democracy.”
In fact, even Romney directly criticized the process he’s now endorsing. During a television swoop on the day of the Massachusetts special election — Jan. 19, 2010 — Romney accused Democrats of “playing fast and loose in Washington.” “[T]here’s kind of a neo-monarchy, if you will, where they don’t have to listen to the American people, they know what’s better for the American people than the people know themselves, and they’re going to push through their health-care plan and their cap-and-trade plan and their spending plan,” Romney said during an appearance on Fox & Friends. After Brown’s victory, Romney told Sean Hannity, “Well, I’d be surprised if the Democrats have already been talking what they would do if Scott Brown became elected, how they would get their health care through despite the will of the people. If they play the kind of shenanigans you described I think it’s going to show the kind of arrogance which has lead to Scott Brown’s victory tonight, in part.”