- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2015

Reaching for a Republican victory amid party chaos, the House Budget Committee has approved a fast-track bill to gut Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood, the abortion provider steeped in controversy over some undercover videos.

The panel voted along party lines, 21-11, to use a budget tool known as reconciliation to send the legislation to the floor. Proponents hope to bypass a Democratic filibuster in the Senate and get a major attack on the health care law to President Obama’s desk.

“Our goal here is to save this country from this disastrous law and start over,” said committee Chairman Tom Price, Georgia Republican.

The package passed Friday combines the work of three House committees and would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for most Americans to hold health insurance or pay a tax penalty, while scrapping unpopular taxes on medical device sales and generous health care plans.

It also would strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding for one year in response to a series of undercover videos appeared to show organization officials negotiating sales prices of fetal body parts. Such sales are legal only if they are not for profit, and the organization insists it did not break the law.

Under the bill, Planned Parenthood’s money would be redirected to community health care centers.

Reconciliation is a powerful, unwieldy tool that allows the majority party to push legislation on an up-or-down vote in the Senate so long as their plans meet arcane deficit rules.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Republican plan would save taxpayers about $79 billion over the 10-year budget window.

The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, said it is “mind-boggling” that Republicans are pushing a bill that would reduce health care coverage and services amid their scramble to replace departing Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

“It’s astounding,” he said.

Democrats used reconciliation to help pass Obamacare in 2010, although Mr. Obama would maintain a veto over whatever this Congress passes. Still, the Republicans wants to prove that they can repeal Obamacare with a Republican president in 2017 even if they cannot win a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes in the Senate.

They are pursuing that prize, however, amid embarrassing turmoil in the party ranks.

The House Republican conference is struggling to replace Mr. Boehner, who resigned because of constant resistance from the caucus’ right flank.

That group of conservatives also prodded Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California to remove himself from contention Thursday, sending the chamber into upheaval as it approached key deadlines on highway spending, the debt limit and budget negotiations to keep the government funded.

“The reality is it’s causing harm to the country as we speak,” Mr. Van Hollen said of the upheaval.

Many are clamoring for Rep. Paul Ryan to fill the leadership void, though the Wisconsin Republican has resisted that call.

Mr. Ryan, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, put together the part of the reconciliation package that repeals Obamacare’s mandates on individuals and employers, its notable taxes and a yet-to-be-named board in Medicare spending that some feel would lead to care rationing.

Democrats noted that the Republican bill would let people with pre-existing conditions get covered, yet it repeals the individual mandate needed to balance the market with healthier enrollees, keeping premiums in check.

The Republican-authored package also scraps a public health account that has been labeled an Obamacare “slush fund” and erases a rule requiring large firms to automatically enroll employees in a company plan if they fail to affirmatively pick or refuse a plan.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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