Senate Parliamentarian Ruling Would Kill Off Trumpcare For Good, In Any World Where Pigs Don't Fly
Rules are for little people
If you've been following the fuck-tussle over repealing the Affordable Care Act (you read Wonkette! Of course you have!), you know that without a 60-vote majority in the Senate, the Republicans have to try to pass their Obamacare repeal using the reconciliation process, which allows passage of budget-related bills with a simple majority. That plan had a major monkey wrench thrown into it yesterday when the Senate's parliamentarian ruled that several parts of the Republicans' "Better Care Reconciliation Act" fall afoul of the rules governing what qualifies for reconciliation, so they'd either have to be stripped out or the bill would be subject to filibuster by Democrats. Either way, that really should kill the current version of the bill. But of course, ever since we became the crapsack universe where Spock has a beard, there's no such certainty.
Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that several elements of the bill violate the "Byrd Rule," which governs what can go in a reconciliation bill. The document was released by Senator Bernie Sanders; he and his staff led the arguments against the BCRA before the parliamentarian (read MacDonough's actual statement here). There are four biggies that ought to make the bill unpassable in the Senate, two of them for ideological reasons and two for purely practical reasons:
1: Defunding Planned Parenthood: The bill's one-year ban on any federal funding of Planned Parenthood is a no-no. Some Rs have whined this one ought to be allowed since a similar measure was deemed OK in a 2015 version of the bill, which Barack Obama vetoed. But that older version would have defunded several other providers of women's healthcare, while the new one is written to solely target Planned Parenthood, so no way is it just a budget-related provision.
B: Restrictions on Abortion coverage: MacDonough also said no to a provision prohibiting purchase of insurance that covers abortions by anyone receiving tax credits that subsidize individual plans. If this provision and the Planned Parenthood defunding are stripped out and can't be replaced with something that can pass the Byrd Rule, a lot of rightwing Senators will see no reason to vote for the bill. If you can't throw a sixth of the economy into turmoil for the sake of Saving Babies/Punishing Sluts, what's the point?
III: The Six-Month Lockout: This was the Senate bill's replacement for the ACA's individual mandate; if someone went more than two months without insurance, they'd be barred from buying an insurance plan on the individual market for six months. The idea here was -- like the ACA's mandate -- to keep at least a minimum number of healthy people enrolled in insurance plans, to even out risk for insurers. Of course, a revised bill could simply repeal the hated individual insurance mandate with no replacement. That would be OK under reconciliation, but without some incentive for younger, healthier people to stay insured, only olds and sicks would buy insurance, and the individual market really would face a "death spiral" as too many sick people buy insurance and costs go out of control.
Four: Market Stabilization Funding MacDonough nixed the appropriation of funds to provide cost-sharing subsidies to insurers to keep premiums and deductibles from going up too much. The Senate can repeal the existing funding mechanism, but not institute a new one.
There are several other provisions that were ruled verboten as well -- most notably the "Buffalo Bailout" written to appease upstate New York House Republicans by shifting Medicaid costs from counties to the state.
Your Shit Sandwich is ready, America!
Are there any issues Ted Cruz can't make worse? Probably not!
So this really ruins Mitch McConnell's plan to bring ACA repeal to a preliminary vote next week, doesn't it? Don't get cocky, kids -- he still has some options. He might decide to have the Senate vote on a bill that would simply repeal the ACA altogether, to go into effect in two years, during which time Rs would surely come up with a real replacement plan that everyone would love. That probably would go nowhere, since three Republicans have already said hell no to moving forward on that. Still, McConnell could just insist on a vote so that the thing could die in its most rightwing form, providing cover for most Republicans running in 2018.
Of course, there's also the possibility that McConnell may decide to overrule the parliamentarian: it would take a vote by Vice President Mike Pence, but as the presiding officer, Pence could say "nahh, we can pass this with 51 votes because we really wanna." Ted Cruz has actually been calling for this since March, because why should the parliamentarian be the boss of him? There's only one tiny problem with the idea, which is that it would effectively mean an end to the legislative filibuster: any time a tough vote came up, the majority leader and vice president could decide pretty much anything could be passed by reconciliation, since after all, everything government does involves the budget, if you look at it right.
Or who knows, maybe this week we'll simply get a statement from McConnell saying only, "We have suspended the rules in recognition of Pure Evil Day, thank you for your compliance."
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.