Kenneth Gold | January 7, 2016
Having tried and failed for five years, congressional Republicans last night finally passed and sent to the president a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, fully knowing they don’t have the votes to override a certain veto. Although the House had already voted 61 times to repeal Obamacare, Republicans had been unable to bring a bill to the floor until last month when a bill passed 52-47 under reconciliation, which allows passage of bills by a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes normally required in the Senate.
Perhaps the most interesting political dynamic to watch in 2016 is whether new House Speaker Paul D. Ryan seeks to follow the “Hastert Rule”, which mandates that Republicans only bring bills to the floor that have a majority of the majority; or whether he’s willing to pass bills with Democratic votes. With 246 or 247 Republicans in the 114th Congress, adhering to the Hastert Rule will mean having the support of the 40 to fifty members of the ultra-conservative members of his party. It’s safe to assume that voting to repeal Obamacare, and defunding Planned Parenthood, which is also in the bill sent to the president, fulfills at least part of a bargain he made with conservatives when he agreed to assume the speakership in October.
The real question for the Second Session of the 114th is to what degree Speaker Ryan has reined in the ultra-conservatives in his party, and whether winning their support on major legislation will mean passing bills that are unlikely to come to the floor of the Senate, as happened repeatedly in the First Session. The alternative, if he wants to pass bills, means compromising with Democrats, and potentially facing the same circumstance that led to Speaker John Boehner’s resignation last fall.
And once again, even with a two-year budget deal in place on discretionary spending, Congress will still need to pass appropriations bills before October 1. We’ll be looking at this and other major issues facing the Second Session in our Congressional Update on February 18. I hope to see you there.