Sentinel Call Notes 12/19/16
The House and Senate continue their Christmas Recess this week. Next week’s Sentinel Call is cancelled for the Holidays, but we’ll resume the call starting on January 2nd. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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Obamacare “Two Budget” Repeal Strategy: Since 2010, Republicans promised to fully repeal Obamacare, campaigned on full repeal, and voted over 60 times to repeal parts or all of the disastrous healthcare law. Earlier this year, Congress used a filibuster-proof process known as budget reconciliation to pass an Obamacare repeal bill that was ultimately vetoed by the President. But now that voters elected to keep Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress and gave Republicans the White House, Congress can use the same budget reconciliation process to successfully and fully repeal Obamacare once and for all in a Trump administration. There are no more excuses to be had.
Thanks to conservatives who successfully prevented Congress from passing a fiscal year 2017 budget that failed to lower spending, Republicans can now use that same budget and reconciliation process to repeal Obamacare with a simple majority and have it ready for President-elect Trump to sign soon after he takes office. Ideally, Congress should pass a one-sentence reconciliation bill that fully repeals Obamacare and sends it to President Trump’s desk by inauguration. The next best option would be for Congress to take the reconciliation bill that was vetoed earlier this year (H.R. 3762), and pass it again with additional language repealing the Obamacare insurance mandates – a central reason health insurance premiums continue to rise. The third and minimal option would be for Congress to simply re-pass H.R. 3762, which does not include the repeal of insurance mandates and other important provisions.
Some members of Congress are expressing concerns about the ability to fully repeal Obamacare through the process of reconciliation because reconciliation must strictly deal with the budget. These concerns are misplaced for many reasons:
- First, all of Obamacare, including the insurance regulation provisions, have a budgetary impact. In fact, Obamacare insurance regulations are the main reason why premiums continue to rise and require taxpayer funded subsidies. This point is further underscored by the fact that the Obama administration argued insurance regulations are inseparable from the rest of Obamacare before the Supreme Court in King v. Burwell.
- Second, precedent already exists for a one-provision reconciliation bill that fully repeals a piece of legislation. Congress enacted welfare reform under Bill Clinton in 1996 by repealing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) under Title IV-A of the Social Security Act in 1996 with one provision and enacting a single block grant under the new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
- Third, if a senator raises a Byrd Rule point of order against a provision repealing the insurance regulations due to budgetary concerns, the Senate Parliamentarian’s word is not final. It is ultimately up to the presiding officer, and ultimately, the Senate as a whole. The parliamentarian is an employee of the Senate with the job of providing advice to the presiding officer on historical precedents, and the Senate could override this obstacle with a simple majority vote.
After Obamacare is completely repealed, Congress can then pass a second budget for fiscal year 2018 that lowers spending levels and achieves other conservative priorities. Republicans should debate and pass a series of conservative, free-market healthcare reforms that enact consumer choice, strengthen the doctor-patient relationship and lower costs. This two budget strategy will ensure that momentum for repeal does not stall. It also provides ample time for individuals who have insurance through the Obamacare exchanges to transition back to the individual market without losing coverage.
Thankfully, Republicans are beginning to unite around this strategy to ensure momentum for Obamacare repeal does not die. House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) told CQ, “I think having the opportunity to have two reconciliation bills as opposed to one, two reconciliation processes as opposed to one, is wise.” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) also endorsed this strategy telling Politico it would be the best way to avoid a filibuster from Senate Democrats. Republicans have promised Obamacare repeal for five years and now possess the political capital to do it. The only remaining question is do they have the will to follow through. In Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s own words: “It’s (Obamacare repeal) pretty high on our agenda as you know. I would be shocked if we didn’t move forward and keep our commitment to the American people.”
End of the Year Wrap-up: Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed a short term Continuing Resolution (H.R. 2028) funding the federal government through April of next year by a final vote of 326 to 96. After a failed, last minute effort by Senate Democrats to include a longer taxpayer bailout for retired coal miner’s health benefits in the bill, the Senate finally passed the CR late Friday by a vote of 63-36. President Obama signed the bill on Saturday morning, preventing a government shutdown and officially ending the 2016 lame-duck session of Congress.
The end of the lame-duck is a win for conservative activists and Sentinels across the country. We successfully stopped the Senate from confirming Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, removed a provision forcing women to sign up for the draft in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), prevented Congress from passing a massive omnibus right before Christmas, prevented an extension of Obamacare bailouts of insurance companies during the lame duck, and thwarted an Internet sales tax bill from receiving a vote.
While these are important victories, Republicans must be vigilant to ensure that no backdoor payments are made to insurance companies between now and inauguration and also prepare a budget reconciliation that fully repeals Obamacare. Additionally, the threat of President Obama making a Supreme Court recess appointment is now officially off the table as the Senate will remain in pro forma session throughout the month of December.
Earmarks: A week after the resounding election of a President who campaigned to “drain the swamp” and end cronyism in Washington, D.C., Republicans in Congress attempted to lift the six-year old ban on earmarks behind closed doors. Earmarks are a form of pork-barrel spending politicians use to pass bad spending bills and redirect taxpayer dollars back to their own districts or states. Republican members including Reps. John Culberson of Texas, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Tom Rooney of Florida and Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania were the four leading proponents of lifting the ban.
Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham issued a statement against lifting the ban before the vote took place. According to multiple news reports, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) tabled the earmark proposal just before it was about to pass, but Ryan promised to create an internal working group to study the issue and propose a way forward by March 31 next year. Conservatives must continue to hold the line on earmarks and be prepared to fight for its defeat early next year. Sentinels are urged to encourage their congressmen to support the current ban on earmarks.
Click here to read Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham’s full statement on preserving the earmark ban.
Two-Speech Rule: In November 2013, Senate Democrats used the so-called “nuclear option” to eliminate the ability of Senators to filibuster all federal administrative appointments and judicial nominees with the exception of Supreme Court nominees. Now that Republicans maintained their Senate majority and won the White House, some are calling for Senate Republicans to use the nuclear option to confirm President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court and pass many upcoming conservative legislative priorities. However, other procedural means exist to move conservative priorities through the Senate without using the nuclear option.
Senate Republicans should move forward by enforcing the so-called “two-speech rule” as a strategy to move their conservative agenda. Under Senate rules, each Senator is limited to a maximum of two floor speeches in the same legislative day. A legislative day begins when the Senate meets after an adjournment and ends when the Senate adjourns next, which could last as short as one day or as long as multiple months.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could use the “two-speech rule” to evade a Senate Democratic filibuster and confirm a conservative justice or pass legislation with a simple majority. This strategy would allow Senate Republicans to push through their agenda without changing any of the Senate’s existing rules. It would also clearly demonstrate to the American people that the Senate minority is being obstructionist and playing politics instead of doing its job.
Click here to read more about the two-speech strategy on the Daily Signal.
Sentinel Call Notes 10/3/16
Last week Congress passed a poorly constructed and fiscally irresponsible continuing resolution which will cause a lame duck funding fight. The call notes below have additional information about the CR and what we can between now and the lame duck to put the proper pressure back on Congress.
The House and Senate are both out of session until after the November elections.
2016 Sentinel Summit: If you are tired of business as usual in Washington, D.C. and want to learn how to keep your Member of Congress more accountable, join Heritage Action at this year’s Sentinel Summit on
Continuing Resolution (CR) / No Lame-Duck: Last week, Congress passed a lame-duck Continuing Resolution (H.R. 5325) funding the federal government through December 9th at the higher spending levels negotiated by Obama and Boehner at the end of last year, the so-called Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA). Initially last Tuesday, the Senate failed to pass the CR. Conservatives voted against it due to its creation of an unaccountable lame-duck session of Congress, a provision allowing Planned Parenthood to have access to $95 million in Zika funding, and the failure to include language blocking ICANN from overseeing the Internet. Many Democrats opposed the CR due to its lack of funding for the Flint, Michigan water crisis, despite the fact that Flint doesn’t need federal funding to fix the problem.
But instead of making the bill more conservative to satisfy conservatives, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell negotiated a deal with Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to pass an amendment on the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA) (H.R. 5303) to authorize $170 million in new federal spending for Flint in exchange for Democrat votes on the Senate CR. This deal paved the way for the lame-duck CR to get passed the Senate, which it did on Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 72-26. Lateron Wednesday, the House passed the Flint amendment by a vote of 284-141, the WRDA bill itself, and finally the Senate CR by a vote of 342-85 with 75 Republicans voting no. Heritage Action issued a key vote against the Flint amendment and the lame-duck CR.
While it is disappointing to see Republican Leadership pass a fiscally irresponsible, lame-duck CR that could give a raise to Planned Parenthood while ceding control of the Internet to ICANN, we must continue to reach out to Members of Congress. Please thank the 75 conservative Representatives who voted against the CR and keep accountable those Representatives who supported it. Grass root conservatives must prepare for the lame-duck session of Congress in December and the prospect of an omnibus spending package. Heritage Action will monitor potential lame duck legislative items including an Internet sales tax, Obamacare bailouts, or the confirmation of Merrick Garland to serve on the Supreme Court.
Click here to read Heritage Action’s key vote on the CR. Click here to read about the implications of regular lame-duck session in Congress for representative government. Click here to read the latest polling on the lame-duck CR.
Obamacare Bailouts: Health insurance companies operating on the Obamacare exchanges continue to face huge economic losses and areabandoning the exchanges at an alarming rate. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska became the latest insurer to drop out, citing $140 million in losses as the reason. Health insurance companies who chose to remain must raise their prices to stay afloat. Health insurers on the Minnesota exchange will raise their premiums by 50 percent to 67 percent next year. The Obama Administration knew this could be a possibility in 2010 and had three health insurer bailouts written into the law, including risk corridors, reinsurance, and cost-sharing subsidies, to keep Obamacare intact.
The risk corridor provision redistributes profit made by successful insurance companies to those who suffer heavy losses, but because Obamacare is failing, losses far outweigh profits. As a result, health insurance companies want a taxpayer bailout and the Obama administration is attempting to go around Congress’ provision preventing this by using Judgment Funds from the U.S. Treasury to bail them out. The reinsurance provision requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect $25 billion in taxes on employer-provided health-insurance plans and 1.) Reimburse taxpayers $5 billion and then 2.) Bail out health insurance companies. Instead of following the law, the Obama Administration is attempting to bail out health insures before reimbursing taxpayers. Federal district court Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled against the White House earlier this May and now the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO)recently concludedHHS does not have the legal authority to bail out health insurance companies. Recent polling conducted by the American Perceptions Initiative (API) shows that 72 percent of Americans oppose “offering more taxpayer money to private insurance companies for their participation in the Obamacare exchanges” and 78 percent of Americans oppose “Congress providing insures with more Obamacare bailouts during a lame duck session.”
Full repeal of Obamacare must continue to be the goal of Congress. In the meantime, Congress should shut down all possible avenues that would bail out insurance companies to save the President’s failing law, and resist any attempts to extend these bailout provisions past the end of this year, including in a potential lame-duck session. This includes passing the Taxpayers Before Insurers Act (S. 2803 and H.R. 5904) sponsored by Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Representative Mark Walker (R-NC). If passed, this bill would penalize HHS for illegally prioritizing big insurance companies ahead of taxpayers through Obamacare’s reinsurance program by cutting 50 percent of HHS’s general department management fund unless the Secretary of HHS pays the full amount taxpayers are owed.
Click here to read the new Sentinel brief on this issue. Click here to read Heritage Action’s legislative endorsement of the Taxpayers Before Insurers Act. Clickhere to read the Heritage Foundation’s statement against the illegal Obamacare payments. Click here to read Chris Jacob’s latest piece in the National Review called “Another Obamacare Bailout is Declared Illegal.”