Parliamentarian Shovels More Dirt On Senate GOP O’care Replacement

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
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In case Senate Republicans’ efforts to pass a bill to both repeal and replace Obamacare didn’t look dire enough already, the Senate parliamentarian has decided two more portions of the bill can’t be included without a 60-vote threshold.

That’s the latest nail in the coffin for the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the main vehicle Senate Republicans had been using for a full repeal-and-replace plan.

According to Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee, the parliamentarian has struck down even larger portions of the bill than before. The latest parts of the bill subject to the so-called “Byrd Bath,” violating the Byrd rule that constrains what can be considered under reconciliation, are the GOP’s plan to allow insurers to charge older Americans five times more for health insurance than younger ones, and a provision allowing small businesses to create health associations that could be sold across state lines.

That’s on top of a whole host of other objections the parliamentarian has made that already were going to force a 60-vote majority to pass and kill the bill, as it currently doesn’t even have majority support in the Senate.

The most major ones are concessions to moderate Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and conservative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that have yet to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office, and Senate GOP leaders have acknowledged would take 60 votes to pass.

Senate Republicans could theoretically overrule the parliamentarian — but it would gut an age-old tradition in the Senate and essentially eliminate the legislative filibuster. Enough Republicans are wary of doing so, even if they liked the bill, that this isn’t going to happen.

That means this bill — the one Republican leaders had put their backs into for months — is all but dead. Another provision for a full repeal of the bill with no replacement also doesn’t have majority support. That leaves only the “skinny” option  that Republicans are still formulating that is rumored to repeal the individual and employer mandates (and essentially kick the bill to a conference committee with the assumption that this bill is unlikely to become law).

That option buys Republicans time. But it doesn’t offer them any clear path forward on how to find agreement on a bill that could eventually pass with just 50 votes in the Senate — especially as the parliamentarian has now struck down more portions of the bill they may have hoped to use in any future version of the legislation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
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