Reconciliation and Obamacare Repeal

Speaking of Mitch McConnell, there may be a few people out there who believe the Republican identification with the vast expansion of filibusters in the Senate is a matter of principle, or at least of a deep aversion to rampant majoritarianism. No no. National Journal‘s Chris Frates offers some documentation for what we all knew was in prospect had Republicans done better in 2012: a fast freight train of legislation beginning with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. It all started with the Supreme Court decision upholding the individual mandate as a tax:

[W]hile McConnell thought calling the mandate a tax was “a rather creative way” to uphold the law, it also opened a new front in his battle to repeal it.
McConnell, a master of byzantine Senate procedure, immediately realized that, as a tax, the individual mandate would be subject to the budget reconciliation process, which exempted it from the filibuster. In other words, McConnell had just struck upon how to repeal Obamacare with a simple majority vote.

The Kentucky Republican called a handful of top aides into his office and told them, “Figure out how to repeal this through reconciliation. I want to do this.” McConnell ordered a repeal plan ready in the event the GOP took back control of the Senate in November — ironic considering Democrats used the same process more than two years earlier in a successful, last-shot effort to muscle the reforms into law.

In the months that followed, top GOP Senate aides held regular strategy meetings to plot a path forward. Using the reconciliation process would be complicated and contentious. Senate rules would require Republicans to demonstrate to the parliamentarian that their repeal provisions would affect spending or revenue and Democrats were sure to challenge them every step of the way. So the meetings were small and secret.

“You’re going in to make an argument. You don’t want to preview your entire argument to the other side ahead of time,” said a McConnell aide who participated in the planning. “There was concern that all of this would leak out.”

By Election Day, Senate Republicans were ready to, as McConnell put it, “take this monstrosity down.”

If there was any hesitation based on the violence reconciliation does to the sacred traditions of the Senate, it was very brief.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.