House Republicans should revive their effort to replace Obamacare by using Charlie Brown's Christmas tree as a model.
Surely you remember: Charlie Brown chose the tiniest, scrawniest tree in the lot, presented it to the other kids, and then watched as the little tree wilted before their eyes. He thought it was dead.
Then, however, Linus wrapped his blanket around the tree's base while the other kids gussied it up with lights and ornaments. When they finished, the tree looked wonderful, and the herald angels sang.
Likewise, because House Republicans can't agree on exactly what their Obamacare replacement tree should look like, they should just take a tiny, bare-bones tree and send it to the Senate to be gussied up.
As has by now been well-reported, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the House has been figuring out what provisions will pass muster under Senate rules for "budget reconciliation" bills that only require 51 votes to pass. No matter what the House does, the Senate will change it significantly anyway, partly because of substantive philosophical differences and partly because the House may be either overestimating or underestimating how much reform can be squeezed within reconciliation guidelines.
So no matter what the House does, the Senate will alter the bill, and then send it back to the House, which then can have yet another crack at it.
Yes, the process appears convoluted. One reason is that the Constitution requires that all bills involving revenue measures must "originate" in the House. So, even though budget rules and practical politics virtually guarantee that the Senate will substantially rewrite whatever the House sends over, the bill still must, at least technically, pass the House first.
All of which means that it almost doesn't matter what the House does on its first attempt. All that matters, at least for those who sincerely believe Obamacare is a terrible system and must be replaced, is that something related to healthcare passes the House and that (for reconciliation purposes) it be clearly budgetary in nature.
That's why the House, being unable to agree on an entire bill right now, should just produce a bill like Charlie Brown's tree. In other words, the bill should be as tiny as possible. The House should just choose any two provisions from the American Health Care Act that failed last week – provisions that are universally supported within the Republican conference, and ones that clearly and indisputably fit within reconciliation guidelines – and pass a bill with just those two provisions.
Then the Senate can add all the lights and ornaments. The Senate can do the heavy lifting. The Senate can produce a more comprehensive bill, send it back to the House, and the House can then work its will in full knowledge of what did and didn't fit within Senate rules.
Conservatives may squawk that the Senate can't be trusted. They are wrong. With only two votes to spare in the Senate (assuming no Democrats come on board), Republicans cannot pass anything in the Senate if any three Republican senators balk. There are plenty of solid conservatives in the upper chamber who absolutely will not vote to send a bill back to the House if the bill is insufficiently conservative.
Consider this list of conservative senators and wonder how hard it will be to get all but two of them to vote for a bad healthcare bill: Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Ben Sasse, Rand Paul, Jim Inhofe, James Lankford, Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, Tim Scott, and Pat Toomey. At least eight of those 10 stalwarts, plus every other Republican senator, must approve a bill before it can go back to the House. The chances of a truly bad bill emerging from the Senate are therefore nearly non-existent.
By the way, using a bare-bones House vehicle for reform would be a case of turnabout being fair play. Obamacare originally was passed in much the same way (except that, at least for its earlier votes, reconciliation wasn't an issue because the Democrats held enough seats to overcome a filibuster anyway).
In the Democrats' case, unlike what I propose here, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn't even pretend to be using a healthcare bill. Instead, he took a House-passed bill called the "Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009," stripped out every one of its provisions, and had the Senate replace it with Obamacare.
The bill then ping-ponged back and forth between House and Senate again, with the House making further amendments in the process.
What was good for creating Obamacare should be good for replacing it: Let the Senate do the bulk of the original legislative crafting. What's important, for the sake of Americans suffering Obamacare's ills, is that the process be moved forward – the tree kept alive, not abandoned to die – so that, in the course of the founders' constitutional processes of deliberative democracy, something good and worthwhile can emerge.
Then, to slightly paraphrase Linus after seeing Charlie's revivified tree, all good conservatives, along with a satisfied public, may look back at the scrawny House legislation I propose and say "I never thought it was such a bad little bill to begin with."
Quin Hillyer (@QuinHillyer) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a former associate editorial page editor for the Washington Examiner.
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