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Republicans to mull use of budget maneuver to get bills to Obama

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(Bloomberg) — U.S. House and Senate Republicans, heading to a policy retreat, will debate whether to use a budget maneuver known as reconciliation to bypass Democrats and send some of their policy proposals to President Barack Obama’s desk.

Led by House Speaker John Boehner and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republicans will hold a closed-door meeting tomorrow through Friday in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Republicans control both chambers for the first time in eight years.

The goal is to work toward unified strategies for confrontations with Democrats over taxes and spending, health care, border security, immigration and raising the debt limit. According to the printed agenda, one session tomorrow will focus on using a budget strategy called reconciliation — needing a simple majority vote — to advance changes on issues including taxes or entitlement programs.

Congress has many new members, Boehner told reporters today, adding that his “first goal here is to help everybody understand what the budget process is.”

“At some point we’ll decide if we’re going to have reconciliation,” Boehner said at a news conference. For now, “my personal preference I think would remain just that, personal,” he said.

Scheduled to lead the discussion are House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi of Wyoming, to be joined by moderator William Hoagland of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Fast-track move

Budget reconciliation is a term for a maneuver that could be a fast-track way for the Republican majorities to use the federal budget to pass policy changes. It has been used before, including by Democrats in 2010 to complete the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). It was also used to create the federal “COBRA” — Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 — health benefits continuation standards. The strategy typically leads to divisions along party lines.

See also: Feds may keep COBRA notice rules in place.

The maneuver must begin with lawmakers adopting a non-binding budget road map, something the divided Congress has struggled to do in recent years.

The process restrains debate and amendments and enables a budget bill containing the majority party’s policy changes to be adopted in the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes. Republicans control the Senate 54-46, meaning they typically need 60 votes to pass major legislation.

Price is among those who says he is open to reconciliation, as Republicans are floating its use in the new Congress to address tax changes and revisions to entitlement programs like Medicare or Social Security, or changes to Obamacare.

High probability

Some outside analysts say there is high probability that Republicans will use reconciliation at some point. Even so, Republicans would face a potential presidential veto.

“I would be very surprised and disappointed if the budget didn’t include reconciliation instructions for entitlement savings,” said Edward Lorenzen, senior adviser at Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The group’s website says it seeks to educate the public about fiscal issues.

Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said he expects Republicans to try to use reconciliation to force unwanted changes to the president’s desk.

“But he will veto any such successes they have and this will be more of the symbolic politics that we have seen in recent years,” Mann said. “I expect reconciliation to be much more legislatively consequential in the next unified party government, whether Republican or Democratic.”

Border security

Senate Republicans plan to stay at the policy retreat through Thursday night, while House members are set to have another day of meetings on Friday.

The agenda also includes sessions on border security and health care. Republicans have been told to expect a border security bill to be brought to the House floor in a matter of weeks, and that efforts toward a Republican alternative to PPACA also will be getting under way, said Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida.

See also: View: Republicans need viable Obamacare alternative now.

The event is financed in part by the nonprofit Congressional Institute and includes a dinner speech tomorrow night by Jay Leno and a luncheon address Thursday by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to the agenda.

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