Bernie Sanders might save Obamacare
As a ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, Bernie Sanders and his staff have been working tooth and nail to undermine Senate Republicans’ efforts to pass the Better Care Reconciliation Act with a simple majority. Over the last two weeks, Sanders has objected to a number of key provisions in the bill — most notably, efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, to prevent government subsidies from being used to buy insurance that covers abortions, and more recently, allowing states to opt out of covering essential health benefits and preexisting conditions, as well as establish insurance caps on coverage — to Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, arguing that they do not fall under the purview of federal spending and revenue. In each of the above instances, she’s agreed.
To refresh: Mitch McConnell is hoping to pass something — anything — so that GOP Senate leaders and GOP House leaders can bash out a compromised piece of legislation capable of passing both chambers of Congress. The easiest way for McConnell to punt it to the next step in the process is to pass something with a simple majority of 51 votes, but the only legislation allowed to pass the Senate with 51 votes is legislation related to the budget — it’s called reconciliation. Anything else has to receive 60 votes, and McConnell knows that ain’t going to happen.
Last Friday, after objections from Sanders, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that defunding Planned Parenthood and the subsidies provision in the BCRA were not eligible to be considered under the budget reconciliation process. On Thursday, Sanders’ office released a statement that MacDonough ruled similarly with regard to essential health benefits and spending caps.
“The function of reconciliation is to adjust federal spending and revenue, not to enact major changes in social policy. The parliamentarian’s latest decision reveals once again that Republicans have abused the reconciliation process in an attempt to radically change one-sixth of the American economy by repealing the Affordable Care Act,” Sanders said in the statement.
These are only a few of the provisions Sanders has objected to and to which the parliamentarian had ruled in his favor. Significantly, they’re all provisions McConnell knows need to be included to get the more extremely conservative members of the House on board for a compromise bill. In other words, anything capable of passing the Senate will probably not be capable of passing the House.
That in no way means the BCRA is dead, however. Vice President Mike Pence can simply overrule the parliamentarian — it’s happened before, but not for decades — but if he were, it sets the precedent that any vice president in any administration can just decide to let any piece of legislation through with 51 votes. That would drastically change not only Senate procedural protocol, but the shape of the country. The next Democrat in office could actually pass universal Medicare — of course, that would require the Democratic Party to actually be interested in passing universal Medicare first.
Until then, we have Senator Sanders to thank for throwing wrench after wrench in Trumpcare’s gears.