What the Senate budget plan really means to ACA's fate

GOP preparing itself anew for the long game against Obamacare
By Tom Sullivan
07:58 AM
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Elephant and flag

Was the U.S. Senate vote on Tuesday just another Republican attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act, as we’ve seen so many times in the House of Representatives, or an initiative with real legs?

The Senate approved a budget plan that opponents of the Affordable Care Act are celebrating as a significant step toward repealing President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation; the House approved the same budget blueprint last Thursday.

Obamacare proponents, however, are claiming that it likely won't even reach President Obama’s desk to be signed into law or, in this case, predictably vetoed.

Neither political party’s side in this is so simple. Instead of becoming a law, the first combined House-Senate budget in six years is a non-binding resolution that sets overall spending limits on federal programs, including the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly dubbed food stamps), Medicare, education and infrastructure by some $5 trillion over the next decade while allocating an additional $38 billion to defense.

Thickening the plot, top GOP brass revealed that the party is also considering a different legislative proposal to extend health insurance tax subsidies available through the federal exchange program – even if the Supreme Court rules that they are illegal under Obamacare when it hands down its King v. Burwell decision, presumably this summer. The idea being to "not leave 6 or 7 million Americans in the lurch," according to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Another idea perhaps being not to revoke those Americans new health insurance and, in so doing, drive them away from voting for a Republican presidential candidate. 

All that said, the budget blueprint passed Tuesday does not technically repeal Obamacare, the President would veto it if it did but, perhaps most important, instead of merely voting for another meaningless repeal of the ACA, the GOP appears to be organizing itself anew for the long game against Obamacare. 

Translation: The House-Senate budget plan contains a so-called reconciliation provision that some Beltway insiders are saying could set the stage for the Senate to repeal the ACA with a simple majority vote – which, if enacted under a Republican President in the next term, could alter the fate of the Affordable Care Act forever.