The most challenging blog posts to write are the ones about political processes that I know nothing about. Having to admit there is something I do not know always creates a hurdle to actually sitting down and writing a piece, which was the case with this post.
Since the election, my friend Maya and I have been developing a project to encourage, among other things, the protection of Obamacare. We were informed by someone that our strategy may not work for Obamacare, since it was likely to be repealed through a process called reconciliation. Cue me furiously Googling to find out what exactly reconciliation is and how it can relate to Obamacare.
Reconciliation is an optional procedure that Congress can use in budget negotiations. This process was designed as a deficit reduction tool, and House rules say you cannot use the procedure to increase mandatory spending. Senate rules say the process cannot be used on anything that would increase the deficit. A reconciliation bill expedites the consideration of legislation, so it cannot be filibustered by the Senate, and requires only a simple majority to pass.
The reconciliation process is usually used on budgetary bills that need to be passed quickly, limiting debate in the Senate to twenty hours. This allows Senators and Representatives to put in policies, like tax cuts, that are related to the budget but may not pass a separate vote. By limiting debate, and tying them to the all-important federal budget, it raises the chances of these tax cuts being enacted. I've talked about riders like this before, and with sequesters and shutdowns always looming over budget negotiations, reconciliation just means these amendments are far more likely to become law.
The only stalwart against reconciliation being used for anything and everything is the Byrd Rule, created and named for Senator Robert Byrd (a KKK member). The Byrd Rule removes provisions from the budget bill that have nothing to do with amending entitlement or tax law. Any changes to budgetary policy, Social Security, civil rights or employment law would be stripped under the Byrd Rule.
So what does reconciliation have to do with Obamacare? In 2010, budgetary changes were made to the bill using the reconciliation process, after the bill had been filibustered and passed by both the House and the Senate. Since then, Republicans have utilized the reconciliation process to try to repeal large sections of the bill, with occasional success. Their efforts have always been vetoed by the President.
It is unlikely that the future President will continue to veto these efforts, as his plan on Day 1 is to ask Congress for a full repeal of the law. To repeal the law quickly, they could be relying on the reconciliation process, which would only repeal sections of the law. Now, these sections are the ones that cover the Medicaid expansion and the insurance exchange subsidies, and that would hurt many low-income people. However, other vital sections of the law, including the individual mandate, would remain intact, and require an actual bill that would need to go through the Senate and could be filibustered. In fact, even the House Majority Leader Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said it would take more than reconciliation to remove the whole Act.
Reconciliation could play a part in the repeal of Obamacare, and it is likely to start almost immediately after Trump's inauguration. This complicated budgetary process could leave millions of Americans without access to healthcare with no plan in place to protect them. Action and activism is already starting, to try to protect the Affordable Care Act, and we need everyone on board. Take the first step today, and call your Senators and Representatives to let them know how much you value Obamacare.