GOP divided over how to derail health care law

Associated Press

Washington — Republicans running Congress have promised to use every weapon in their arsenal to take down President Barack Obama’s health care law.

But now some are questioning whether to use the congressional budget process to derail the 2010 law or save the special step for more traditional purposes like cutting spending or overhauling the tax code. A potentially divisive debate between tea party forces and GOP pragmatists looms.

At issue is an arcane process known as budget reconciliation. It’s the only filibuster-proof option available to Republicans, who control the Senate with 54 seats but must still muster 60 votes to pass other bills.

Senate precedents limit the number of reconciliation bills — one for taxes, one for spending and one to raise the government’s borrowing cap — and so a major debate has begun among Republicans over what to put in it.

Hard-line conservatives want to use the process to force a showdown with Obama over the law.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told a Heritage Foundation gathering of conservatives last week that Republicans should “use every procedural tool available, including reconciliation, to repeal Obamacare with 51 votes in the Senate.”

That’s a view shared by conservative groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action, and prominent voices on the right like Erick Erickson, publisher of the conservative blog.

“It’s time to stop pussy-footing around ... and get serious,” Erickson wrote last week.

Pragmatic voices in the GOP, however, say the certainty of an Obama veto effectively means that Republicans would be wasting the opportunity given them under special budget rules that limit debate and can guarantee delivery of legislation to Obama.

“I’d like to get tax reform done. I think we could do infrastructure in that process. And I think that’s something that could actually get enacted,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce committee. “I mean we’re going to have a lot of Obamacare votes one way or the other.”

A reconciliation measure can only advance after the House and Senate have agreed upon a measure called a budget resolution, which sets broad parameters for spending, revenues and curbs to benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“The only way to do entitlement eligibility changes is on a bipartisan basis,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday at a news conference at a GOP issues retreat in Hershey, Pa. “We do not intend to be offering unilateral, one party-only entitlement eligibility changes.”