After weeks of hemming and hawing on how they're going to use reconciliation, Senate Republicans finally committed on Tuesday to using the budgetary tool to fully repeal Obamacare.
But it's what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not say in a statement released in conjunction with Sen. Mike Lee that leaves room for things to get interesting: He did not say reconciliation would only be used for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Majority Whip John Cornyn was more direct about what reconciliation will be used for: "Obamacare and anything else we can shoo on in there."
The rules of reconciliation allow it to be used on a bill that covers a wide variety of subjects, as long as they fall into the jurisdiction of certain committees. The rules do not require the bill to do only one thing, although GOP leadership is very clear that repealing Obamacare is its primary objective. (The tool allows a bill to pass through the Senate with only 51 votes instead of the 60 needed to break a filibuster.)
"We will focus specifically on Obamacare, but other areas may be included," said Sen. John Barrasso, who has become the party's lead spokesperson on health care.
"That's one of the things reconciliation will be used for," said Sen. Richard Burr in an interview, referring to an Obamacare-repeal vote. "I think it's likely there'll be more than one."
The budget resolution passed earlier this year instructed certain committees in both the House and the Senate to find $1 billion in deficit savings. There were also nonbinding instructions for the House saying reconciliation was to be used for repealing the Affordable Care Act.
But as long as the committees hit the target savings, and the legislation proposed falls into their jurisdiction, they are in compliance with the rule. The committees are House Ways and Means, House Energy and Commerce, House Education and Workforce, Senate Finance, and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
A Senate GOP aide confirmed that there is talk about using reconciliation more broadly than just on Obamacare, although he did not elaborate on specific legislation.
It's always been widely understood that the president will veto any legislation repealing his signature health care law. However, Republicans—particularly those elected on the promise of working to repeal Obamacare—say it's important to get a bill to the president's desk as a message to voters.
It is highly unlikely that there's anything the GOP could add to the bill that would make Obama reconsider his veto. At best, it seems the move could make a veto sting a bit if it gets rid of something else the president wanted to become law.
It might also placate some rank-and-file Republicans who would have liked to see reconciliation used on something else.
"I've already voted on Obamacare 41 times; I think I need 42," said Sen. Tim Scott with tongue in cheek.
"Tax reform's very important, but I think we did make a commitment to the American people," Scott added. "So I think it's important for us to follow through on that commitment. But I'd like to be able to use reconciliation for more than one objective."
It's also still unclear when reconciliation may be used, as it has no expiration date. The committees' deadline for submitting their recommendations to the Budget Committee came and went with no action taken, although this doesn't matter. Reconciliation becomes unusable only if a new budget resolution with new instructions is passed.
Historically, however, it is not unusual for there to be a long lag between when a budget resolution is passed and when action is taken on reconciliation. A budget with reconciliation was passed in April 2009 and action was finally taken in March of 2010. In 2008, the budget was passed in May and action was taken in September. And prior to that, a budget was passed in April 2005, but action was taken on reconciliation in December 2005 and then again in May 2006, as there were separate instructions on revenue and deficit.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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.