Senate Budget Allows Republicans to Seek Obamacare Repeal

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Obamacare Legislation
While the House has voted more than 50 times to delay or repeal Obamacare, Democrats controlled the Senate until January and still have the power as the minority party to block most legislation. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The U.S. Congress adopted a budget that will allow Republicans to bypass Democrats and send a repeal or revision of President Barack Obama’s landmark 2010 health-care law to his desk.

The Senate vote Tuesday was 51-48 on the plan negotiated by majority Republicans in both chambers. The House adopted the measure 226-197 on April 30.

The president has said repeatedly he would veto any proposal to gut or repeal Obamacare. Yet with the U.S. Supreme Court expected to rule next month on a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, Republicans could try to force him to compromise if the court strikes down most of the insurance subsidies that underpin the law.

The budget “gives us the tools to leave Obamacare’s broken promises and higher costs where they belong -- in the past,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. “It’s a budget that aims to make the government more efficient, more effective and more accountable to the middle class.”

Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said the budget is “balanced in name only” and cuts items such as financial aid to attend college.

“The Republican budget is unfair, it’s unbalanced, unwise and some said it’s immoral,” Reid said.

Budget ‘Gimmick’

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement that the budget would hurt middle-class families and relies on a temporary “gimmick” for defense funding.

“Congressional Republicans propose drastic cuts to programs that support the middle class and provide ladders of opportunity for those seeking to reach the middle class,” Earnest said.

The budget measure is a non-binding framework for spending bills to be passed later. It doesn’t go to the president for his signature. Reid said last week that his party would block spending bills based on the budget.

Republican Priorities

The budget resolution, S.Con.Res. 11, spells out the Republican Party’s priorities by calling for $5.3 trillion in spending cuts to reach balance in nine years. Most of the reductions, $4.1 trillion, would come from programs including entitlements like Medicare.

The plan would use a reserve fund to evade a limit on defense spending while keeping in place caps on domestic programs.

“American families know they can’t live on borrowed money and neither can the federal government,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, said during floor debate.

Democrats oppose reductions to entitlement programs without tax increases for wealthier Americans. In the House, no Democrats supported the budget, while 14 Republicans opposed it.

“This is an absolute disaster for the working families of this country,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats and is the party’s top member of the Budget Committee. He is seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.

Obamacare Legislation

The budget agreement would let Republicans use a process called reconciliation to send Obamacare legislation to the president without needing Democratic votes.

While the House has voted more than 50 times to delay or repeal Obamacare, Democrats controlled the Senate until January and still have the power as the minority party to block most legislation. The reconciliation process would let Republicans pass an Obamacare repeal with no Democratic support.

Republicans’ chances of enacting an outright repeal of Obamacare remain slim, though, because Democrats would have the votes to sustain a presidential veto.

Court Decision

House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia said a Republican strategy on Obamacare will await a Supreme Court ruling on a lawsuit seeking to throw out most of the tax credits that underpin the Affordable Care Act.

The Republicans’ response will depend on what the court says, whether it overturns the subsidies and whether existing contracts must stay in place, Price said.

The unified budget would use emergency war funds to evade a limit on defense spending while keeping in place caps on domestic programs.

The measure would limit discretionary spending in 2016 to $1.016 trillion, while war funding would total $96 billion, far above Obama’s request. The plan allows total spending of $3.9 trillion in 2016, with a $400 billion deficit.

A budget document is typically little more than an aspirational framework for spending. The most recent unified budget plan was enacted for fiscal 2010 when Democrats controlled both chambers.

The appropriations bills due at the Oct. 1 start of each fiscal year set the actual spending details for agencies and government functions.

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