“Good enough” was finally acceptable to most far-right conservatives in the House, who on Friday joined with the rest of their party to repeal several major provisions of Obamacare in a reconciliation bill.
But even though the bill survived opposition from a handful of House Freedom Caucus members, it might not make it past the intraparty feuding in the normally more-organized Senate. In the upper chamber, conservative members of the GOP will still settle for no less than full repeal. And two of the senators responsible for the bill's questionable fate, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are vying for the presidency, adding an additional layer of complication—in the form of primary votes—to the bill's passage.
“On Friday the House of Representatives is set to vote on a reconciliation bill that repeals only parts of Obamacare. This simply isn’t good enough,” Sens. Cruz, Rubio, and Mike Lee wrote in a statement released prior to the House vote. “Each of us campaigned on a promise to fully repeal Obamacare and a reconciliation bill is the best way to send such legislation to President Obama’s desk. If this bill cannot be amended so that it fully repeals Obamacare pursuant to Senate rules, we cannot support this bill.”
Reconciliation is a budget-procedural tool that allows a bill to pass the Senate without threat of filibuster, requiring only 51 votes to head to the president’s desk. Some simple math explains the bill’s problem in the Senate if it remains as-is: Three senators of 54 have pledged to withdraw their support from the bill, meaning to pass, it can’t lose the vote of another single Republican.
However, reconciliation bills are not free-for-alls. Guidelines in the Senate limit the scope of what can be passed using this method. For that reason, the reconciliation bill voted on in the House on Friday repealed only pieces of Obamacare—including the individual mandate, the employer mandate, the medical-device tax, and the Cadillac tax—rather than the entire law.
The bill also effectively defunds Planned Parenthood for a year. In a stand-alone vote to defund the organization in August, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois defected from the rest of the party to vote against the legislation. It’s unclear whether he’d vote to end the flow of federal dollars to Planned Parenthood through legislation that also dismantles Obamacare.
It’s also unclear when the reconciliation bill will come up in the Senate or whether it’ll go directly to the floor.
“The Leader hasn’t announced timing/procedure, but that the Senate will have an opportunity to amend the House-passed bill,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in an email.
Only seven House Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the reconciliation bill Friday: Ken Buck, Robert Dold, Mark Meadows, Walter Jones, Richard Hanna, Matt Salmon, and Mark Walker.
“I voted no because there was far more that we could have included in that Obamacare repeal than we were being led to believe,” Salmon said in an interview outside the House chamber during the vote. “We need to stop trying to second-guess what the Senate’s going to do and put our best foot forward. This body has already voted numerous times for a full repeal, and so saying we can’t get the votes, to me, is a garbage answer.”
Members of the Freedom Caucus who voted for the bill defended those who voted against it, saying their votes do not foreshadow a continuation of party disunity.
“We want to move toward regular order, but nothing in regular order goes against the idea that you vote your conscience and your district at the end. So people differ, that’s fine. That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” said Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia, a member of the Freedom Caucus that voted for the reconciliation bill.
Meanwhile, Democrats saw the House vote as a meaningless political exercise in the midst of Republican turmoil. Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee, said that instead of tackling the serious work that Congress must contend with, “we just keep on going in circles.”
“It’s not going to become law, it may not get through the Senate,” Levin said of the reconciliation bill. “What it’s doing is trying to kind of assuage some of the tensions within the Republican conference. That’s its only purpose.”
Most Republicans view passing a repeal of major parts of Obamacare through reconciliation as a step forward, marking their commitment against the health care law and reminding voters what they’ll do if Republicans take the White House in 2016.
What will happen in the upper chamber seems to be lingering in the back of everyone’s minds. Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton predicted on Thursday that the bill was in good shape to pass the House, but hinted at where the real hurdle lies.
“I’d like to say this but I won’t … it’s on cruise control,” Upton said, laughing at the pun on Cruz’s name, “but [it] might get confused.”
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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.