- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2015

Top GOP lawmakers in Congress have given themselves seven weeks to turn a powerful, if limited and unwieldy, budget tool into a long-sought bill to repeal Obamacare.

The clock started ticking Friday, when the Senate Budget Committee formally instructed the Finance and Health committees to each find ways to reduce the deficit by at least $1 billion over the next decade, the next step in an arcane budget process that Republicans have eyed as their best chance put a repeal bill on President Obama’s desk.

House budget negotiators sent similar instructions to its committees on Education and the Workforce, Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means.

The fast-track process, known as “reconciliation,” allows the GOP-led Congress to use deficit reduction as the vehicle for new legislation that can pass on a majority vote in the Senate. That means Republicans could overpower Democrats who still have the votes to filibuster.

The measure would still require Mr. Obama’s signature, however, and he is not about to scrap his signature achievement.

“I don’t think he’s going to sign anything, frankly,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, told the Hugh Hewitt Show late in the week, referring to a less ambitious effort to repeal Obamacare’s medical device tax.

Democratic majorities used reconciliation to polish off Obamacare in 2010 after the election of Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts ruined their filibusterproof majority.

Today’s GOP leaders want to turn the tables by using Congress‘ first unified budget in six years to show they are serious about scrapping the health law ahead of its 2016 push to retake the White House.

Committee chairmen from both chambers must report their ideas by July 24, leaving a three-to-four-week window for them to address the potential fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell, which is due by the end of this month.

Justices are deciding whether the IRS has unlawfully paid Obamacare’s subsidies to customers in 34 states that declined to set up their own health exchanges.

Republicans hope to use the ruling as a bridge to 2017, when a GOP president and majorities in Congress would let them repeal and replace the health overhaul.

Congressional Republicans say their use of reconciliation will largely be dictated by whether the justices strike down the subsidies.

Either way, it’s unclear whether the Senate parliamentarian will permit the GOP’s attempt at full Obamacare repeal, as reconciliation provisions must fit into strict budget rules. Most notably, a rule named for former Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd prohibits senators from including extraneous measures that distract from reconciliation’s goal of deficit reduction.

GOP aides said they haven’t given up on full repeal, although they’ve acknowledged that the Byrd rule does place limits on what they can do.

“Things would be easier for them if the [Congressional Budget Office] found a straight repeal reduces the deficit,” said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB).

Some Republicans disliked the way former CBO chief Douglas Elmendorf — who they ushered out the door in February — evaluated President Obama’s health law, showing that once all the tax hikes were included, the legislation would reduce the deficit over the 10-year period that governs congressional laws.

The CRFB, meanwhile, has said it is disappointed the GOP majority decided to use reconciliation for Obamacare repeal, which faces a certain veto, instead of pushing for entitlement reform or other vehicles to reduce the debt.

Congressional Democrats also have criticized the GOP’s plans as weak and unnecessary, pointing to 16 million Americans who’ve gained coverage under Obamacare. They also say there is no need to forge a backup plan for the King decision, arguing Congress never intended to treat the states differently and that the justices will see it the same way.

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