- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Senate Republicans put themselves on track to pass a long-sought bill this week to dismantle Obamacare and strip funding from Planned Parenthood for one year, finalizing a measure Tuesday that will put a major repeal of the Affordable Care Act on President Obama’s desk for the first time.

Mr. Obama is sure to veto the bill, but just getting it to his desk will be a victory for Republicans, who have repeatedly run into Democratic filibusters in the Senate.

The repeal bill is part of a flurry of year-end activity as Congress tries to clear the decks. Still to come are votes on a $281 billion highway funding deal, a bill to rewrite the No Child Left Behind education law and a spending bill to fund the government in fiscal year 2016.

Also on the to-do list is approval of certain tax breaks known as “extenders” and the renewal of health care programs for workers who responded to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Senate could vote on repealing Obamacare as early as Thursday. Republican leaders introduced language Tuesday that overcomes some procedural hiccups and papers over internal feuds.

With those hurdles behind them, Republican leaders say they are confident they can muster the 51 votes needed to pass the bill under fast-track budget rules. It will go back to the House for final approval before heading to Mr. Obama — the first repeal to make it to the president’s desk.

“Something’s got to give,” said Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican. “We need a better approach.”

With so much to do, Democrats fumed over Republican efforts to gut Obamacare and to defund Planned Parenthood in retaliation for videos that showed organization officials haggling over fees for body parts from aborted fetuses.

The practice is legal as long as it’s not for profit, though Planned Parenthood has since said it will no longer accept even the handling fees that were being negotiated. Republicans have said the organization should forfeit the approximately $500 million a year it takes in taxpayer funding.

Democrats said the debate over stripping funding from Planned Parenthood was particularly ill-timed after a gunman killed three people at one of the organization’s clinics in Colorado last week.

They also said it was the wrong time to abandon Obamacare.
“Everyone knows this bill won’t become law,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. He added that Obamacare has cut the uninsured rate, particularly in Mr. McConnell’s home state.

The Obamacare feuding contrasts with bipartisan agreements on other issues, such as the education bill Monday and the transportation bill Tuesday.

Leaders on either side of the Capitol said they are confident the parties can agree on a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending deal to fund basic government options for a year rather than careen into a second government shutdown in three years.

“We’re a lot further along than most people realize,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican.

The sticking point to the spending bill is a set of policy add-ons, or “riders,” that both sides want to attach to the sprawling bill. Dozens of Republicans, for instance, want to block Mr. Obama’s plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year.

“We obviously have difference of opinions on all of these big issues. Those negotiations are ongoing right now,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.

The House has passed its version of the Obamacare repeal but will have to revisit the legislation after the Senate votes.

That’s because the Senate is adding language that phases out the law’s expansion of Medicaid in select states, smoothing the way for Republicans to offer a full Obamacare replacement in 2017. The move is an attempt to win over a trio of Republican lawmakers who said the initial House bill hadn’t gone far enough.

Republicans are using a process known as “budget reconciliation,” which allows them to pass the bill with a simple majority so long as it meets arcane Senate rules.

Republicans see it as a test run for 2017, when they could scrap the law for good with a Republican president and a slim Senate majority.

Mr. Obama has vowed a veto this year, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said it’s worth making him go through the process because the president will have to grapple with the way the law is performing. Mr. McConnell cited rising premiums and Americans who lost their doctors or preferred health care plans because of the 2010 overhaul.

“When the president picks up his pen, he’ll have a real choice to make,” Mr. McConnell said. “He may well decide to stick to his rhetoric that the law is working better than even he intended and veto the bill. But he should instead decide to finally stand with a middle class that’s suffered enough from this failed law and sign it. We’ll see.”

The bill repeals Obamacare’s mandates, including the one requiring most Americans to hold insurance, and its taxes on medical device sales and generous employer-sponsored plans.

It also defunds Planned Parenthood in response to outrage over undercover videos about its abortion practices.

Republican leaders kept the defunding measure in the bill despite reservations from some centrists, who say the group offers an array of women’s health care services besides abortion.

“We’ve been working very closely to try to come up with a consensus piece of legislation,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “I believe we have, and I believe it can pass with at least 51 votes, but hopefully more.”

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