- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch vowed Tuesday to chip away at Obamacare “piece by piece,” and said the GOP may still use the complex “reconciliation” budget process to knock out a sizable chunk.

Democrats used reconciliation to help pass Obamacare in 2010, and Republicans have been warily eyeing it as a tool to undo the law now — though they say, if they use it, they’ll have just one shot, and it will have to be very carefully crafted.

Mr. Hatch, Utah Republican, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that lawmakers are eyeing the process for either health care reform or another priority for the finance panel: tax reform. Either way, he said it’s a powerful weapon that should remain in the party’s arsenal.

“The stakes are just too high to limit ourselves like that,” he said in prepared remarks, laying out his priorities as the new chairman of the committee.

He also said the panel will consider demanding states that botched their Obamacare rollouts last year repay federal money to the federal government, saying “we need to know what happened and whether that money will ever be paid back.”

Hours after his speech, the Department of Health and Human Services released an inspector general’s report that found the Obama administration also botched its own rollout and may have wasted money by not putting one entity in charge.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services tended not to look beyond the pool of existing government contractors before they struck 60 deals to build out the glitch-filled HealthCare.gov website, the report said.

CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, who oversaw the botched website, announced her resignation from her post Friday, just ahead of the IG report’s release.

The rollout problems were a major political headache for Democrats in last year’s election and helped add steam to the Republican push for repeal.

Now, however, Republicans are trying to figure out how far they can go with Mr. Obama still wielding a veto and Democrats holding a big enough minority to filibuster bills in the Senate.

Reconciliation can help the GOP avoid a filibuster, but it’s a thorny process because changes must be related to the budget. The Senate’s parliamentarian has broad authority to rule on whether changes meet that standard, and on its face it appears better suited to tax reform.

Mr. Hatch, who took the gavel this year after the GOP swept to power in November’s midterms, laid out a road map for taking down Obamacare’s most unpopular provisions while asking his colleagues to come up with some ideas.

“It’s not enough for the committee or the entire Congress to simply send messages on Obamacare,” he said. “We need to work toward positive solutions of our own.”

To get there, Mr. Hatch is doubling down on the party’s near-term strategy of chipping away at Obamacare’s unpopular mandates and regulations so they can replace the law down the road.

Besides the 2016 presidential election, they’re waiting for a Supreme Court decision, due by June, that may invalidate Obamacare’s subsidies in two-thirds of the states, making the law much less attractive and giving the GOP a chance to step in.

In the meantime, the Finance Committee will take up bills that repeal the law’s 2.3 percent excise tax on medical device manufacturers and the insurance mandate on businesses that employ more than 50 workers, the chairman said.

“No one in this room should be surprised to learn that I oppose the Affordable Care Act and think that it should be repealed,” Mr. Hatch told the chamber. “But I’m also realistic. With President Obama in the White House, we’ll never get a full-repeal enacted into law.”

Mr. Hatch said his committee will debate bills that exempt veterans from counting toward the employer mandate and change the law’s definition of full-time work from 30 hours to 40. Both measures have passed in the House.

Republicans and some Democrats say the 30-hour definition is forcing employers to cut part-time workers’ hours to 29 or less to avoid the mandate. But critics of the measure say changing the definition will put even more workers at risk, because full-timers at 40 hours could see their hours cut to 39.

The Senate Health Committee will hold a hearing on the issue Thursday.

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