Reproductive health care policy has captivated the national conversation, thanks to Republican lawmakers threatening a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funds and planning congressional inquiries into the national women’s health organization. But these issues have, perhaps intentionally, overshadowed another legislative move in the health care arena.
On Tuesday, House Republicans quietly advanced a strategic bill gutting key parts of the Affordable Care Act — a move that could lay the groundwork for a future Obamacare attack if a Republican wins the presidency in 2016.
Legislation seeking to repeal Obamacare is far from novel; the House has voted on over 50 similar bills in the past, most dying in the Senate. But this specific measure may have a better chance of advancing further. That’s because it relies on a complex strategy to get around a potential Democratic filibuster in the Senate.
Using a method called “reconciliation” that allows tax-related measures to be fast-tracked to the president’s desk, GOP lawmakers can dodge the Senate by slashing the budgetary pieces of Obamacare. This complicated workaround wouldn’t repeal Obamacare outright. However, it would eliminate the central policy that the Affordable Care Act is founded on: The individual mandate that requires Americans to purchase health insurance, which was ruled a “tax” when it was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012.
“By tearing down many of the worst parts of the law — like forcing people to buy insurance only to later tax them for it — we could stop Obamacare in its tracks and start working toward a more affordable, higher-quality, patient-centered system,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said on Tuesday.
Currently, 27 million Americans remain without health insurance, even with Obamacare’s major provisions in effect. Repealing the law’s individual mandate would effectively increase the number of uninsured to 41 million by 2025, according to a previous analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO also projects that getting rid of the mandate would increase health care premiums in the individual market by 20 percent.
The measure, which passed the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, would also roll back other policies included in the ACA, like its employer mandate and its controversial “Cadillac” tax on high-cost health plans.
Obama will veto this bill as soon as it reaches his desk. But this doesn’t kill the long-term potential for the strategy. If the GOP is able to unite around reconciliation, it could be a blueprint for dismantling Obamacare if a Republican takes the White House in 2016.
Some experts question the GOP’s workaround approach, suggesting it’s a risky move and it would be better to work toward a 60-vote threshold in the Senate rather than using loopholes to bypass a potential filibuster. Even some members of the Republican Party have said that it’s not appropriate to rely on reconciliation to go after Obamacare.
However, the plan to use the reconciliation process to attack the health law has been in the works for a while among far-right Republicans, and could become more popular depending on the future leadership of the party. Democratic members of the House link the latest legislative action to Speaker John Boehner’s recent announcement of his resignation.
“Today, we are seemingly taking the next step after the Speaker’s announcement on Friday to appease the right-wing of the Republican Conference,” Rep. Sandy Levin (D), a ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, said in prepared remarks.
Obamacare has been the law of the land for more than five years and has survived two Supreme Court challenges. And despite GOP disagreement, experts say health reform has been overwhelmingly successful. The law has helped more than 16 million previously uninsured people gain coverage since 2010.