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An Obamacare Update

It looks like Republicans are abandoning their full-on “repeal-and-delay” strategy. The new plan:

“It is our goal to bring it all together concurrently,” [House Speaker Paul] Ryan said.

“We will pass as much as we can” initially, Ryan said. He said Republicans would then produce a second bill to “show you the full scope of what a real replacement effort looks like.”

Let me try to unpack this.

As I’ve noted a few times in this space, Republicans have just 52 Senate votes. They can pass budget-related provisions with 50 votes, but to repeal Obamacare’s tangle of insurance regulations, they need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. In the old plan, they’d have set the law’s funding to expire at some point in the future (using the 50-vote process), forcing Democrats to help enact a full replacement (through the normal 60-vote process) before that point.

In the new plan, Republicans will do “as much as [they] can” in the reconciliation bill, including replacement provisions where possible—i.e., when they affect the budget. But the law’s regulations will remain intact, so Republicans will bring out another bill to handle those.

That second bill will need 60 votes. The big question is what leverage Republicans will have over Democrats at that point.

After the first bill, will the health-care market be left in a basically functional form, tempting Democrats to wait for a better political climate in which to pursue further reforms? Or is this basically a milder variant of the old repeal-and-delay strategy, where Republicans set a time bomb, threatening to destroy the market if Democrats don’t help them pass reforms? It will depend, obviously, on the exact content of the first bill.

Robert VerBruggen is managing editor of The American Conservative.

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