This commentary originally appeared in The Federalist on March 10, 2017.
I like the Senate parliamentarian very much and consider her a friend from my time in the Senate. I prayed for her when she had a family loss. She prayed for me when I was sick with cancer. She’s a good public servant.
But she’s neither elected, nor the final word on the future of health care for Americans. What she offers is her view on the Senate rules. At the end of the day, the Senate decides the Senate rules. In this instance, both the parliamentarian and the Senate can, and should, find that full repeal of Obamacare through the budget reconciliation process, and thus 51 votes, is permissible.
For background, Republican leadership has long been saying that if full repeal is sent from the House to the Senate, it will be deemed to violate Senate rules under budget reconciliation. They claim this is because the insurance regulations and mandates are merely incidental to the budgetary impact of Obamacare and therefore would draw a budget point of order requiring 60 votes to fully repeal the law’s insurance regulations and mandates.
This is false. Obamacare’s onerous insurance regulations and mandates are the primary drivers of individuals’ and families’ rising premiums and deductibles. They are the very backbone of Obamacare’s oppressive centralization of health care. The regulations and mandates are crippling the health insurance market, driving up costs for patients, doctors, and insurers and degrading the quality of care that patients are receiving.
To argue that their budgetary impact is merely incidental to the rest of the law is absurd on its face. Even the Obama administration made this very argument before the Supreme Court in King v. Burwell, arguing forcefully that the regulations are inseparable from the rest of the law. Predicated on that alone, Congress has a case that full repeal through budget reconciliation is viable.
Yet neither the House nor the Senate, have even attempted to pass a full repeal of the law through reconciliation. The Senate parliamentarian hasn’t even adjudicated whether she believes a full repeal is allowed under reconciliation rules. After eight years of promising to fully repeal Obamacare, Congress hasn’t even tried to do so in a process requiring just 51 votes in the Senate.
Also, should the parliamentarian present an unfavorable ruling, the Senate has the power, as Sen. Ted Cruz articulated, to put Vice President Mike Pence in the chair and overrule the parliamentarian. The Senate decides the Senate rules.
Congress has promised to fully repeal this catastrophic law for nearly eight years. Now that they control all levers of power, they are hiding behind excuses and procedural theory to avoid making good on their promises.
Congressional leaders are putting the hypothetical opinion of an unelected Senate employee above the promises they made to the American people, above the preservation of America’s crumbling health-care system, and above the quality of their constituents’ health care—all as an excuse to avoid taking a consequential vote and doing the right thing for all Americans.
They are out of excuses to finally make good on their promise to fully repeal the catastrophe of Obamacare. And the American people are out of patience.