Last month's Supreme Court ruling seemed to serve as a coda in the mind-numbing political fight over the Affordable Care Act. The legal questions have been resolved; the ACA is working effectively for consumers; polls show increasing support for the law and the U.S. system; and it was painfully obvious that the "Obamacare repeal" crusaders need a new hobby.
And yet, Republicans just can't help themselves. Bloomberg Politics reported
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell championed a renewed push to bypass a filibuster and repeal Obamacare with 51 votes on Tuesday, he announced in a joint statement with Utah Senator Mike Lee, one of the most conservative Republicans in the chamber. "Republicans are united in working to repeal the broken promises of Obamacare," McConnell said in the statement, adding that the Senate will "continue our effort to use reconciliation ... to fulfill the promise we made to our constituents."
The legislative maneuvering gets a little tricky, but here's the gist: GOP lawmakers realize that if they bring up a bill in the Senate to repeal the ACA and strip millions of Americans of their health care benefits, Senate Democrats will filibuster. There are 54 Republicans in the chamber, not 60, so this won't work.
But under Congress' often bizarre budget rules, lawmakers can sometimes pursue their goals through the "reconciliation" process, which bypasses filibusters.
If Senate Dems can't block the GOP scheme, does this mean the plan has a legitimate shot?
Not really. President Obama would still veto any repeal bill that reaches his desk, and far-right members couldn't come close to overriding the White House.
But Roll Call notes
a more amusing problem for Republicans.
Using reconciliation rules is also fraught with other problems, most notably that reconciliation is supposed to be used to reduce the deficit, and repealing the law in its entirety, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would increase the deficit, even when Republican-mandated dynamic scoring is applied. [...] On the thorny deficit question, [the far-right activist group, Heritage Action] suggests overcoming that by having the Senate Budget Committee not use the official CBO score of a repeal but instead come up with its own score.
It's easy to laugh at the ridiculous lengths conservatives are prepared to go to take families' health care benefits away, but what's especially important about this is the degree to which it's a dry-run for 2017.
Proponents of American health care generally find some comfort in the idea that the ACA is safe, indefinitely, because even if Republicans take control of the White House and Congress, they won't be able to break a Democratic filibuster. This new GOP scheme, however, is a dress rehearsal, going through the motions as a sort of proof of concept -- if congressional Republicans can pass an "Obamacare" repeal bill in 2015, they can do it again in 2017, when they hope to have a far-right ally in the Oval Office.
In theory, GOP lawmakers could be doing real work this year, addressing substantive issues and passing meaningful legislation, but that's not nearly as much fun as play-acting, looking forward to the day in which they can actually try to gut the American health care system out of partisan and ideological spite.
Watch this space.