If Donald Trump is elected president and Republicans hold onto Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan is bluntly promising to ram a partisan agenda through Capitol Hill next year, with Obamacare repeal and trillion-dollar tax cuts likely at the top of the list. And Democrats would be utterly defenseless to stop them.
Typically, party leaders offer at least the pretense of seeking bipartisanship when discussing their policy plans. But Ryan is saying frankly that Republicans would use budget reconciliation — a powerful procedural tool — to bypass Democrats entirely. It’s the same tool Republicans slammed Democrats for using to pass the 2010 health care law over their objections.
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While GOP leaders have made empty threats to use reconciliation to repeal Obamacare in the past, Ryan is making it clear that this time he plans to use it when it counts. And he would likely have support from a Trump White House. Larry Kudlow, an economic adviser to the GOP presidential nominee, said he is also strongly urging Trump to embrace reconciliation in order to pass sweeping tax cuts.
Ryan peeled back the curtain on his strategy at a news conference after a reporter suggested he would struggle to implement his ambitious agenda next year. After all, it was noted, Republicans are certain to lack the 60 votes needed in the Senate to break Democratic filibusters on legislation. So Ryan gave a minitutorial on congressional rules and the bazooka in his pocket for the assembled reporters.
“This is our plan for 2017,” Ryan said, waving a copy of his “Better Way” policy agenda. “Much of this you can do through budget reconciliation.” He explained that key pieces are “fiscal in nature,” meaning they can be moved quickly through a budget maneuver that requires a simple majority in the Senate and House.
The GOP-controlled Congress passed a reconciliation bill last year that would repeal key parts of the health law, including effectively eliminating the individual and employer mandates and scrapping the Medicaid expansion, insurance subsidies for consumers and the medical device and Cadillac taxes. The bill was promptly vetoed by President Barack Obama, but it would serve as a road map to Republicans in 2017. The reconciliation process relies heavily on precedent, so now opponents of Obamacare already know what can pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian. Notably, the bill also defunded Planned Parenthood for one year, in a sign of how expansive a reconciliation bill can be.
Other pieces of Ryan’s “Better Way” policy agenda that could find their way into a reconciliation measure are controversial proposals to bring down the costs of Medicare and Medicaid or overhaul the food stamp program and housing assistance for low-income renters. Every line of the bill would face scrutiny from Democrats, but a skilled procedural tactician could overcome most parliamentary challenges.
Republicans would also set about rewriting the tax code through budget reconciliation. Asked if the procedure would be a good way to implement GOP tax plans, Kudlow responded, “Not good, fabulous.” Speaking for himself and not the campaign, Kudlow said reconciliation was “the fastest way in our judgment to get necessary pro-growth tax reform.” He said he has been encouraging that path to Trump and his staff all year, and that they were considering it.
(Excerpted from Politico 10/06/16)