Haskins: GOP should go ‘nuclear’ on Obamacare repeal

Justin Haskins

For the first time since 1928, Republicans control the House of Representatives, Senate and presidency. They say they’re not planning on wasting this historic opportunity to promote conservative policies and reforms, especially when it comes to health care.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the day after the Republicans’ historic election that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act is “pretty high” on the GOP agenda for 2017.

The Affordable Care Act has been nothing short of a massive, highly divisive policy failure. In 2016 alone, health insurance giants Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealth all announced the end if their involvement in most of the ACA exchanges in 2017. This, along with decisions by other insurers to leave the government exchanges, means 1.4 million people in 32 states will be forced to find new health insurance providers or plans.

Health insurance plans are also becoming more expensive. The Department of Health and Human Services announced at the end of October that insurance premiums for the mid-level benchmark plan will increase an average of 25 percent in states participating in Healthcare.gov, the federal health insurance exchange.

Despite clear majorities in both chamber and President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to fix Obamacare, Democrats have already pledged to work tirelessly to stop any effort to make significant free-market reforms to the ACA. The only way for Democrats to accomplish this is to take advantage of current Senate rules that require three-fifths of legislators, 60 votes, to end debate on pending legislation, a procedure called “cloture,” so that the Senate may conduct an up-or-down vote on a bill.

Republicans will likely end up with 52 seats in the Senate after the runoff election ends in Louisiana, which means they would need eight Democratic senators to agree to end debate for there to be any hope of replacing Obamacare.

That seems unlikely. The ACA is outgoing President Barack Obama’s signature and most important legislation. Much political capital was spent getting it passed in 2010, and it’s almost inconceivable they’ll let Republicans rip it to shreds without an intense fight.

Perhaps the only way then for Republicans to keep their promise to fix Obamacare is to implement what many refer to as the “nuclear option,” a dire way of saying senators should use a parliamentary procedure to override the 60-vote cloture requirement to end debate with a simple majority so a bill could receive an up-or-down vote.

Many refer to such a tactic as “nuclear” because it violates the Senate’s supposedly longstanding tradition of empowering the minority party and promoting debate. If the “nuclear option” is used, critics say, the minority party — in this case, the Democrats — will someday use the procedural rule when they take control of Congress again, effectively changing the dynamics of the Senate forever.

Prior to the 20th century, the Senate had few ways to stop endless debate. Tradition had mandated senators have the power to filibuster any legislation to act as a sort of check on the comparably quick actions of the House of Representatives. The modern cloture rule was imposed at the behest of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson in 1917 to silence opponents of his progressive agenda.

The 1917 rule required two-thirds of the Senate to agree before debate could be halted, but that didn’t satisfy Democrats. In 1975, they revised the rule so only three-fifths of the Senate is needed, making it easier to silence the Republican minority in Congress.

Most recently, in 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and fellow Democrats used the nuclear option to push through federal judicial nominees.

If Republicans go “nuclear,” they will merely be following Reid’s example, despite inevitable cries they are violating centuries-old Senate tradition, as Democrats have done many times. But what is more important: violating tradition or reforming a health care system that is causing millions of people to suffer and costing hundreds of billions of dollars?

Republicans have a duty to uphold their vow to repeal and replace Obamacare, Senate traditions be damned.

Justin Haskins is executive editor of the Heartland Institute. This has been adapted from InsideSources.