ACA Revamp Odds Slip as Senate Gets New Expiration Date

Budget measures need just 51 votes to get through the Senate

Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt. (Photo: Sanders) Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt. (Photo: Sanders)

The Senate parliamentarian told lawmakers that Republicans’ ability to pass an Affordable Care Act change bill with just 51 votes expires at the end of this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders said Friday.

The preliminary finding complicates any further efforts by Republican leaders in Congress to pass a comprehensive GOP-only overhaul of the health care law.

Sanders, a Vermont independent, in a statement called the determination a "major victory" for those who oppose Affordable Care Act de-funding.

(Related: Governors Share Health Plan as Senate Flirts with Bipartisanship)

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber 52-48, failed to win enough support for their ACA de-funding and change bill in July as three GOP lawmakers joined Democrats to oppose the measure. Republican leaders haven’t ruled out reviving their effort, and some party members — including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Ted Cruz of Texas — say they’re talking to colleagues about a possible broad-based bill.

At the same time, some senators are discussing a scaled-back, bipartisan health measure. It takes 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster, and Democrats are united against de-funding of the Affordable Care Act, or the kinds of Affordable Care Act program changes proposed in the bills that have reached the House or Senate floor.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has scheduled four hearings this month to examine bolstering the Affordable Care Act public health insurance exchange system.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, and the panel’s top Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington, have pledged a bipartisan effort to shore up the exchanges, which provide consumers a place to purchase individual coverage with help from Affordable Care Act subsidies.

Earlier guidance from Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough dogged Republicans in their Affordable Care Act change effort throughout the summer. In late July, she issued a preliminary finding that key parts of a proposal drafted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t qualify for consideration under the budget reconciliation rules, dramatically complicating the already slimming prospects of passing a bill.

Republicans can still try to use the budget reconciliation process to get an Affordable Care Act change bill through the Senate with just a 51-vote majority, rather than a 60-vote majority, during the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

The House Budget Committee has drafted a fiscal 2018 budget that could be used for both de-funding the Affordable Care Act and tax reform. That budget may come to the floor in mid-September, and the Senate Budget Committee hopes to release its version of the budget in the coming weeks. Still, putting a tax overhaul and Affordable Care Act de-funding in the same legislation would be time-consuming and unlikely.

—Read ACA Waiver Proposals Are Hard to Score: CBO Chief on ThinkAdvisor.


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