Friday, March 10, 2017

Obamacare, and what may be the dumbest nuclear option in the Senate

Before this legislative session got going, I pointed out that if the Republicans really, truly wanted to get rid of Obamacare, they had the following option:  the nuclear option.  They could do exactly what Harry Reid did a few years ago on court nominations below the Supreme Court.  In November, as part of my "The future of the filibuster series," I posted this about how the Republicans might even strategically pretend that the nuclear option isn't there in order to avoid a full repeal if they didn't want to go through with it.

Now, though, the Republicans might find themselves forced into the dumbest nuclear option ever.  They are going through budget reconciliation because budget reconciliation bills can't be filibustered.  The House's bill doesn't look very solid in the Senate, to say the least.  This could just be Paul Ryan attempting to show that at least he is trying to do something on Obamacare.  Nevertheless, they are going through the motions, and setting up budget reconciliation.  The problem in the Senate (aside from the fact that more than two Republicans kind of seem to hate the damned thing) is that pesky Byrd rule, which says that non-budgetary provisions aren't kosher in a reconciliation bill.

Of course, everything affects the budget, indirectly if nothing else, but the House bill has at least one really sketchy provision.  Insurers are supposed to jack up your rates by 30% for a lapse in coverage.  Will that indirectly affect the budget?  Sure, but only indirectly.  Like I said, everything has an indirect effect.  Is that enough to justify inclusion in a budget reconciliation bill, or does that mean Democrats can filibuster?

That's up to an appointed specialist called the "parliamentarian."  What if the parliamentarian tells the Republicans they are off their rockers?

Option 1)  Back to the drawing board.

Option 2)  Give up.

Option 3)  Ignore the parliamentarian.

Can they really take option 3?  Yes, they really can.  By majority vote, the Senate Republicans can declare that the Senate parliamentarian is wrong, that any provision they say is budgetary, and that bacon is kosher.  Yes, that is a form of nuclear option.  Yes, that is the dumbest version of the nuclear option because you might as well just declare filibusters off limits formally, because that's what you'd be doing.

And if that's what you are doing, why not just do a full repeal?  The only thing stopping full repeal is the capacity of the Democrats to filibuster, and overruling the parliamentarian on budget reconciliation is basically getting rid of the filibuster anyway because it allows the majority to stop any filibuster they want on legislation by declaring anything they want budgetary.

Like I said, dumbest nuclear option ever, if they go through with it.  Will they?  I don't know.  This whole process is a mess.

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