The Repeal That Wouldn't Die
September 26, 2017 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Are there any limits for how many times a proposed bill can be brought before Congress?

The Congressional GOP leadership and Trump have made several attempts to repeal and replace (or even just replace) the Affordable Care Act. They've failed to accomplish either one, but they just try and force another attempt through within a few weeks of the last one in a transparent effort to put it through until it passes.

I was under the impression that the last attempt that died in the Senate had blocked further repeal attempts, at least until 2018, but then Graham-Cassidy happened. I don't completely understand the process here.

How often can they edit and revive the proposed repeal, and is there any point where they will have to give up, at least for a while? Can a bill simply be thrown at Congress repeatedly until it passes, and if there are limits what loopholes are the GOP using to do this?
posted by thedarksideofprocyon to Law & Government (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
They've all been different pieces of legislation.

There are limits on how and when a particular bill can move through the process. But there are not really any functional limits on Congress reintroducing new bills (or budget riders, or whatever) with the same language to do the same thing repeatedly. It's much more a function of politics and norms (remember those?) than rules of procedure.
posted by pantarei70 at 12:08 PM on September 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

There is no limit on how many times or how many different ways Congress can attempt to rewrite laws that Congress originally passed. What makes it look like they're trying the same thing over and over is that they've declared their goal is "repeal Obamacare" instead of "reform health industry funding."

There are problems with the ACA. The individual mandate is difficult for some people who really could use that money in other parts of their lives. The states' ability to ignore the Medicaid expansion is costing lives, and the people in those states have no practical recourse. Dental care coverage is still a mess. Insisting on pre-existing coverage and no lifetime caps is terrific for the people who need it - and will be a growing drain on everyone else.

Other countries manage, and they do so with an entirely different starting base than we have. I'm not saying these are unfixable problems - just that, even an entirely progressive, liberal, health-care-for-all Congress would have a lot of work cut out for them, and they'd be entirely justified in trying several different approaches to remove the financial hardships that people now endure while trying to get health care.

The theory is, the ratfuckers currently in charge are just trying different methods to get their constituents what they need. They want to remove the individual and employer mandates, which is a reasonable goal; they theoretically want to assure health care services to their constituents (they certainly at least want to assure future votes for themselves); they're allowed to keep playing juggling-act games to try to make those goals match up.

There are limits on specific bills; there are no limits to how many bills or other pieces of legislature can be created to address the same perceived problem.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:12 PM on September 26, 2017

You can propose a bill as often as you like. The issue with Graham-Cassidy is that they want to pass something via reconciliation, which means that they only need a simple majority (50 votes, actually, as President of the Senate Pence breaks ties). If they can't pass it via reconciliation then they have to pass it as a normal bill. A simple majority is needed there, too, but a vote for cloture (the vote to end debate and vote on the damn thing already) takes more votes, which means that something passed by normal means effectively needs 60 votes.

I, too, was under the impression that the last attempt was it and that McCain had killed the whole thing, but it appears that was an oversimplification. My understanding is that there was actually a time limit under which something could be proposed and everyone just assumed that there wasn't enough time to get something else out there and that was that. I believe that September 30th is the drop-dead date and if they don't get something passed by then the reconciliation window will close and they are stuck.

Don't ask me why there is a reconciliation window. This is strange Senate magic.

They can keep proposing stuff forever, but now they are worried. They've been saying for years that they need to get rid of Obamacare, but their proposals were meaningless as they didn't have a majority in the Senate or a Republican President. Now they do, so they can't just jump up and down and shout and excite their base. Action is required, and that's proving hard. More failed attempts will make them look bad.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:12 PM on September 26, 2017 [9 favorites]

I was under the impression that the last attempt that died in the Senate had blocked further repeal attempts, at least until 2018, but then Graham-Cassidy happened. I don't completely understand the process here.

As others have pointed out, Graham- Cassidy is technically a different bill, for all that it's trying to accomplish the same general goal (kill Obamacare) as previous bills.

The other important factor is reconciliation, which, simplifying greatly, is a bit of a loophole that allows certain kinds of bills a certain window of time when they can be passed with a simple majority (51 Senate yes votes) rather than the regular 2/3 majority (60 Senate yes votes). Since there aren't 60 Republican Senators, their only chance to pass a bill with absolutely zero Democrat yes's is through this loophole. Which expires on Sept 30.

The failure of the previous attempt blocked that specific bill from moving forward, but didn't block any attempt at a new bill. It's just that most people & pundits & analysts figured that the Republican Senators were still sane enough to behave like normal politicians, recognize that they couldn't bring their own party to agree on a "repeal & replace" bill without a LOT more work, and therefore move on and use the limited time they had to pass things under reconciliation that they could actually pass. Evidence suggests that some Very Powerful Donors (plus Trump) put serious pressure on the Republican Senators to instead take one more whack at this bullshit, so here we are.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:48 PM on September 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

To elaborate a little bit on what others have said about reconciliation, the Sept. 30 deadline is because it's the end of the current fiscal year for the federal government, so the reconciliation instructions that were passed earlier this year expire. There is theoretically no reason that they couldn't just re-invoke the same set of budget reconciliation instructions and bring up a similar bill during the next fiscal year and just keep trying. But what is obvious is that they currently don't have the votes within their caucus to do that, and it's politically costly to keep bringing up bills that fail, because, well, it's embarrassing. But keep in mind that almost all of the Republican caucus in the Senate was willing to vote yes on this bill, and something could change. John McCain's prognosis is not good, by his own admission; if he died from his illness in, say, the next six months, he could be replaced by someone more pliant appointed by Arizona's Republican governor (who came out in support of G-C), who would then serve until the 2018 general election.

So, as long as the Republicans maintain majorities in both houses of Congress, the ACA will always be under some level of threat, even if it's not them bringing up the exact same bill time after time.
posted by Kosh at 1:25 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also the previous deadline was predicated on all the other things they wanted to accomplish (and/or were deluded enough to think they could pass under reconciliation rules with their divided caucus). To wit: they had a big plan that they'd "fix" health care spending first, and in the process have such a net positive effect* on the budget that they could also pass tax "reform" and a budget for the next fiscal year without having to, y'know, negotiate. It's important background for all this to know that Congress hasn't passed a budget in years. Aside from a few shutdowns, government funding has kept going on continuing resolutions, without a full budget. Republican leadership thought that with control of Congress and the White House (and an amenable Supreme Court) they could finally write a budget they wanted, getting past the legislative problems of the past 20 years or so and doing a lot of damage in the process either to Democratic pet projects or the stuff right wing media has declared as intolerable (not exactly the same list). To pull all that off they needed to pass a budget on only Republican votes, which meant they needed to do it within the reconciliation window. They also needed to increase the debt limit (to avoid a government default).

* Making a long answer even longer: the budget effect of the Republican health care plan, such as it was, was that it would reduce the amount of money the federal government provided to the states for Medicaid (so-called "Block Grants" – the National Review thinks they're great.) With that reduction in spending, they'd have room in the budget to cut taxes (the "reform" part of the plan), but it also turned out that the taxes they wanted to cut disproportionately affected the extremely wealthy, and even the Republican "base" caught onto that for once.

The reconciliation window closes when the new fiscal year starts. If they didn't pass a budget or a continuing resolution by October 1, the government would shut down. The first deadline for health care was less "we can never consider this again" and more "we're not going to spend any more time trying to do this under reconciliation rules since we still need that time for other things." When it became clear that they couldn't pass the dream health care repeal bill first, they had to figure out how they were going to deal with a budget and still accomplish tax "reform." All of that has kind of been blown up by the initial failure to pass their health care bill, because they were depending on it in order to make everything else work, and because it also exposed weaknesses in the caucus.

Fast forward to September: back from recess, Republicans had more or less given up on tax "reform" (because it was unpopular among Trump voters they still need to vote for them in primaries), they couldn't even get a strictly partisan budget going, they were running out of time in the reconciliation window, and Trump (who at least seemed to realize a shutdown would reflect poorly on him) stole their thunder. He agreed with Democrats on a short term continuing resolution that pushes any possible shutdown into December. With that pressure off (and apparently some acknowledgement that leadership can't quite whip their caucus into shape) there was an opening for a revived effort to kill off health care, which some of their "base" (but more of their big donors) were still really, really angry about.
posted by fedward at 1:29 PM on September 26, 2017 [7 favorites]

The Senate voted against an amendment to the health care reconciliation bill, then pulled the bill off the floor before voting on final passage.

The new bill would be proposed as another amendment to the reconciliation bill, which is still active, but isn't on the floor right now.

The Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader have broad powers to postpone bill consideration (pull stuff off the floor) pretty much whenever they want. To get it back on the Senate floor, they just need another motion to proceed.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:49 PM on September 26, 2017

Vox had a good article about this yesterday which basically said that the Republicans could keep bringing up bills like this as long as they have a majority in Congress. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news -- I was hoping it was over too.
posted by elmay at 7:55 AM on September 27, 2017

> I, too, was under the impression that the last attempt was it and that McCain had killed the whole thing, but it appears that was an oversimplification.

The assumption then wasn't really that they COULDN'T bring up any new bill or approach, but rather that if the then-current bill didn't have the votes then nothing they could come up with given the time frame of budget etc had a rat's chance in hell of getting any more votes than the last attempt did, and therefore that no one would be dumb enough to try it again without taking the time to formulate a whole new approach and build support--all of which is going to take time.

All of that was correct--and has been proven correct by recent events--except for the part about "no one would be dumb enough to try it again".

They were in fact dumb enough, even though it played out exactly as anyone could have predicted when the last proposal failed.

It was definitely dumb in that that the failure was quite predictable, raises the issue again without making any real progress, makes the party and leadership look like failures again, and brings the massive public opposition forward again. So it looks like a move that strengthens opposition more than support for their plan.

So why do it? Well, the vote margin is razor-thin, and any time legislation starts to move the results are--above all!--essentially unpredictable. So there was close to no chance this plan would move--but not no chance at all. Why not roll the dice even though the odds are against you--maybe you'll come up with the winning combination this time. Just for example, if McCain ended up in the hospital & unable to come to the floor for a vote, that would be about enough to turn the tide. Things are running THAT close.

Additionally, trying once again does test people's positions and can set the stage for success at the next step. It's clear now that they are going to have to spend some time formulating a whole new plan, going through the "regular process", and (horror of horrors!) perhaps even moving in a slightly bipartisan direction.

Sometimes it takes a few abject failures to get some of the back-bencher types to loosen their grip and allow that, yeah, maybe we need to work with the other party, or the other faction of our own party, even just 1% because otherwise this thing is going nowhere fast.
posted by flug at 8:48 AM on September 27, 2017

Also, to answer your question more directly, there is literally no limit to how many ways the party in power can attack a given issue, except their own discretion and judgement.

I would expect ACA to be attacked via pretty much every available vehicle or method members of Congress can dream up. That means via direct bills solely dedicated to the issue, but also through the budget process, via any other bills remotely related, and so on.

Whether any of those avenues succeed, we'll see. But I definitely would expect them to be tried.

This can really be ended only by getting a different majority party in place with different priorities, different agenda etc. (Or the same party but with a different agenda & priorities, I suppose.)
posted by flug at 8:52 AM on September 27, 2017

« Older Looking for gripping non-fiction   |   How do I find out if I'm good at teaching? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.