WASHINGTON — The Senate Republican budget released Wednesday inches forward with an Obamacare replacement by putting in place a process for key committees to craft one. A very small step but a notable one that sets a self-imposed deadline.
There are no specifics — yet. The budget resolution calls for repealing Obamacare and instructs two committees of jurisdiction, the Finance Committee and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, to report out an alternative by July 31, 2015. The plan calls for using “reconciliation” — a rule that allows the Senate to bypass a filibuster on fiscal items if both chambers agree on a budget resolution — to adopt a replacement health care plan.
Acknowledging that a Supreme Court decision on the legality of Obamacare subsidies — expected by the end of June — could significantly impact the federal budget, the blueprint calls for a plan that would “reduce the deficit by $1 billion over the 10-year period of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.”
Released by Senate Budget Chair Mike Enzi (R-WY), it is the Senate
GOP’s first budget resolution in many years, with the party now in
control the chamber.
The blueprint was written with the aim of winning the votes of 51 of the 54 Republican senators, no easy task when six of them face potentially tough reelection battles in blue states won twice by President Barack Obama. (It is a non-binding resolution and cannot be filibustered under congressional rules.)
As a result, the budget steers clear of politically perilous proposals and sticks to ideas that are easy for Republicans to defend: a 2.4 percent annual hike in military spending starting in fiscal 2017, cuts to non-defense domestic spending and “waste,” greater state control of Medicaid, and no new taxes. It lacks specifics about how it would meet its lofty goal of a $3 billion surplus by 2025.
What the Senate budget excludes is a sweeping proposal in the last five House GOP budgets to remake Medicare from a single-payer insurance program into a “premium support” system that gives seniors a subsidy to buy a private plan or stay in traditional Medicare. It also excludes a House-backed provision to prohibit a “reallocation” from the Social Security retirement fund to keep the program’s Disability Insurance fund from dipping into insolvency in 2016.
Writing a budget was the easy part. Now comes the hard part.
The House and Senate have to pass their respective budgets and reconcile them in a bicameral conference committee in order to settle on spending and taxation levels for appropriators ahead of the next fiscal funding deadline to keep the federal government running on September 30. That’ll be a very difficult task given the policy divisions and differing political incentives facing House and Senate Republicans. It poses the toughest test yet for the new GOP Congress.