Republicans as a group are generally rooting for the Supreme Court to knock down a key part of Obamacare this summer. But they're still divided as to what should happen next.
If the Court rules as Republicans hope it will in King v. Burwell, financial assistance will be invalidated in more than 30 states that have federal exchanges. And although several Republican proposals have already been put forth to deal with the chaos that would ensue following an immediate subsidy removal, the party is split over whether or not it should use budget reconciliation to ensure one of them ends up on the president's desk.
The reconciliation process requires only 51 senators to put a bill before the president, as opposed to the normal 60. But, prior to the post-King proposals, many Republicans called for it to be used for a full Obamacare repeal, and the Republican budget agreement uses language ambiguous enough to leave reconciliation's specific use up in the air.
"I think we all know President Obama is not going to sign a law that repeals his signature proposal in his law," Sen. John Barrasso told National Journal. "So the only way, I think, to actually repeal the health care law is with a Republican president after the 2016 election.
"But what I want to do is put something on the president's desk that hopefully he would sign, which would be to continue helping the people that have been harmed by his actions, and at the same time, giving them freedom from the significant mandates and the expense of his law," added Barrasso, a sponsor of a post-King proposal that would give financial assistance to those impacted for a transitional period and allow states to create their own competitive health-insurance markets.
If the Court deems subsidies on federal exchanges illegal, he said, "we want to protect those people, but not protect the law."
Sen. Ron Johnson, the sponsor of a separate proposal, told National Journal that although he would support using reconciliation to pass a post-King Obamacare fix in the Senate, he doesn't think it will be necessary.
"I've tried to put forward a proposal that I think is so reasonable—and would have the support of the American public—that we would get more than 51 votes in the Senate," the Wisconsin Republican said.
That doesn't mean Johnson has given up on the idea of repeal; rather, he's waiting for 2016.
Although his legislation—which has 31 cosponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Sens. Barrasso, Lindsey Graham, and Orrin Hatch—would extend Obamacare subsidies, it also would spur a transition away from the law by repealing its individual and employer mandates.
"I would like to see the entirety of Obamacare repealed today, but I realize that's not politically practical," Johnson said. "And so by saying OK, if you like your health care plan you can keep it, even the subsidies, for basically two years—a little bit more, until the end of August 2017, allowing a new president and a new Congress the ability to actually repeal and replace, a full replacement—this is just a transition piece."
But it is unlikely Obama would sign a bill put on his desk through reconciliation and without Democratic support, even if it repairs the damage caused by a King win at the Supreme Court.
Although Dan Holler of Heritage Action, too, is looking towards 2016, he views the election as more reason to put a repeal in front of the president, even if he won't sign it.
That's because it would allow 2016 GOP contenders to say they would have signed the bill, shows a Republican-controlled Congress will send a repeal bill to the president in 2016, and forces an Obamacare repeal to be taken seriously.
"If you go through this process, everybody ... is going to say, 'Well, coming 2017 we may have a reality we're going to have to prepare for,'" Holler said.
"I think, by and large, conservatives ... are firmly in the camp of using reconciliation to put a repeal bill on the president's desk," he said. "The idea of using reconciliation to repeal Obamacare isn't this fringe conservative idea. Pretty much the entire Republican Party was on board in July 2012."
Plus, after all, reconciliation is "a partisan tool," Holler said. "This is not some bipartisan kumbaya thing."
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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Caitlin Owens is a health care reporter at National Journal. Her work has previously appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.