It’s no secret that the President and congressional Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Their main method of preparing to do so is Senate Concurrent Resolution 3 which passed the Senate and House in early January 2017.
What the resolution does
Introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, the primary reason it gained attention is as the main congressional blueprint for Republicans to repeal the health care law. And passage of this concurrent resolution allows for a procedure called reconciliation, which prevents a bill from getting filibustered and restricts the number of bill amendments which can be offered. (The bill’s legal purpose is actually to set the congressional budget level for the upcoming fiscal year, as well as intended budget levels for the subsequent 10 fiscal years. More on that later.)
It also requires the relevant committees in both the Senate and House to introduce repeal legislation by Friday, January 27. Attempts by some Republicans to move back that date, in some cases by several months, ultimately failed. Concerns are rising as the party has yet to coalesce around a replacement plan, with Trump saying he won’t reveal the specifics of his administration’s plan until his Secretary of Health and Human Services is confirmed, while several competing Republican replacement plans introduced by members of Congress jockey for frontrunner status.
A concurrent resolution is a type of congressional legislation that does not need a presidential signature because it does not have the force of law.
What supporters and opponents say
Supporters argue the resolution is a necessary move to get rid of a law that they contend has removed freedom of choice in doctors and insurance plans, burdened the economy through skyrocketing premiums, and interfered unnecessarily with the American medical system.
“Congressional approval of this resolution is an important first step in building a bridge from Obamacare’s broken promises to better health care for all Americans,” lead sponsor Enzi said in a statement. “This resolution will help provide relief from Obamacare that millions of Americans have long demanded, while also ensuring a stable transition in which those with insurance will not lose access to their health care coverage.”
Opponents argue the health care law has dramatically lowered the uninsured rate, saved lives, and that the replacement would likely leave many people even worse off than the status quo.
“The vote taken in Congress today is nothing short of irresponsible. It puts in jeopardy the lives of millions of Americans just for the sake of a political victory,” Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA35) said in a statement shortly after the House vote. “For years, we have heard Republicans talk about repealing and replacing, but to this day we have not seen a single workable plan to replace the ACA.”
The vote count, and why some Republicans voted against
The resolution passed the Senate 51–48, with no Democrats in favor and only one Republican against: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Make no mistake, it’s not because Paul supports the Affordable Care Act, but because he felt the legislation didn’t go far enough in balancing the budget overall. “Putting nearly $10 trillion more in debt on the American people’s backs through a budget that never balances is not the way to get there,” Paul said in a statement after the vote. “It is the exact opposite of the change Republicans promised, and I cannot support it, even as a placeholder.”
The resolution then passed the House 227–198. Similar to the Senate vote, no Democrats were in favor and nine Republicans voted against. Similar to Sen. Paul, many of the nine are Freedom Caucus members who argue the legislation did not go far enough. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA6), Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, recused himself from the vote.
The budget estimates
As mentioned earlier, the actual overall purpose of the bill — besides just the health care repeal element earning the most notoriety — is to set federal budget levels. Although these are subject to change, under the legislation the upcoming fiscal year would have a total budget of $3.3 trillion. This amount would rise each year, up to $4.9 trillion a decade from now.
Federal revenues, meanwhile, would total $2.7 trillion in this upcoming fiscal year. That figure too would rise each year, up to $3.9 trillion a decade from now.
Every single year, federal outlays would surpass federal expenditures, creating deficits and adding to the national debt. The deficit would total $582 billion in the upcoming fiscal year, rising in most — though not all — of the subsequent years, until totalling $1 trillion a decade from now.
The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 13, 2017.
(This measure has not been amended since it was passed by the Senate on January 12, 2017. The summary of that version is repeated here.)
This concurrent resolution establishes the FY2017 congressional budget resolution, which provides a framework for congressional consideration of revenue, spending, and other budget-related legislation. The budget resolution is a nonbinding framework used by Congress and cannot be signed into law or vetoed by the President.
The resolution establishes budget enforcement procedures by setting forth rules for applying budget points of order to various legislative proposals. It also includes reconciliation instructions directing various congressional committees to submit to the congressional budget committees deficit reduction legislation, which Congress must then consider using expedited legislative procedures.
The resolution includes reserve funds that provide the chairmen of the congressional budget committees with flexibility in applying budget enforcement rules to health care legislation that meets specified criteria.
Establishes the congressional budget for the federal government for FY2017 and sets forth budgetary levels for FY2018-FY2026.
TITLE I--RECOMMENDED LEVELS AND AMOUNTS
Subtitle A--Budgetary Levels in Both Houses
(Sec. 1101) Recommends levels and amounts for FY2017-FY2026 for:
federal revenues, new budget authority, budget outlays, deficits, public debt, and debt held by the public. (Sec. 1102) Recommends levels of new budget authority and outlays for FY2017-FY2026 for each major functional category, including:
National Defense; International Affairs; General Science, Space, and Technology; Energy; Natural Resources and Environment; Agriculture; Commerce and Housing Credit; Transportation; Community and Regional Development; Education, Training, Employment, and Social Services; Health; Medicare; Income Security; Social Security; Veterans Benefits and Services; Administration of Justice; General Government; Net Interest; Allowances; and Undistributed Offsetting Receipts. Subtitle B--Levels and Amounts in the Senate
(Sec. 1201) Recommends Senate levels for FY2017-FY2026 for Social Security revenues, outlays, and administrative expenses.
(Sec. 1202) Recommends Senate levels of new budget authority and outlays for FY2017-FY2026 for U.S. Postal Service discretionary administrative expenses.
(Title II includes reconciliation instructions directing congressional committees to submit deficit reduction legislation to the budget committees. Under the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, reconciliation bills are considered by Congress using expedited legislative procedures that prevent a filibuster and restrict amendments in the Senate.)
(Sec. 2001) Includes reconciliation instructions directing the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to each submit to the Senate Budget Committee legislation to reduce the deficit by at least $1 billion over the FY2017-FY2026 period. Requires the legislation to be submitted by January 27, 2017.
(Sec. 2002) Includes reconciliation instructions directing the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee to each submit to the House Budget Committee legislation to reduce the deficit by at least $1 billion over the FY2017-FY2026 period. Requires the legislation to be submitted by January 27, 2017.
TITLE III--RESERVE FUNDS
Establishes reserve funds that provide the chairmen of the congressional budget committees with flexibility in applying budget enforcement rules to health care legislation that meets specified criteria. (Under the reserve funds, the chairmen may revise committee allocations, aggregates and other appropriate levels in this resolution, and the pay-as-you-go [PAYGO] ledger in the Senate.)
(Sec. 3001) Establishes a deficit-neutral reserve fund for health care legislation that would not increase the deficit over the FY2017-FY2016 period.
(Sec. 3002) Establishes a reserve fund for health care legislation. Specifies that the adjustments permitted under this section may not exceed the difference obtained from subtracting $2 billion from the sum of deficit reduction over the period of the total of fiscal years FY2017-FY2026 achieved under legislation for which the chairman has exercised authority under the deficit-neutral reserve fund in section 3001.
Specifies that, in the House and the Senate, legislation for which the chairman of the applicable budget committee has exercised authority pursuant to this section is exempt from: (1) the point of order against legislation increasing the short-term deficit, and (2) the point of order against legislation increasing long-term deficits or direct spending.
(The short-term deficit point of order prohibits the Senate from considering legislation that would cause a net increase in the deficit in excess of $10 billion in any fiscal year provided for in the most recently adopted budget resolution unless it is fully offset over the period of all fiscal years provided for in the most recently adopted budget resolution.
The long-term point of order applies to legislation that would cause a net-increase in on budget-deficits in the Senate or a net increase in direct spending in the House in excess of $5 billion in any of the 4 consecutive 10-year periods beginning with the first fiscal year that is 10 years after the budget year provided for in the most recently adopted budget resolution.)
TITLE IV-OTHER MATTERS
(Sec. 4001) Provides that, for the purposes of enforcing the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, the chairmen of the congressional budget committees may submit for publication in the Congressional Record allocations that are normally included in the joint statement of managers accompanying a conference report.
(Sec. 4002) Provides that the discretionary administrative expenses of the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Postal Service are reflected in the allocation to the appropriations committees to ensure that the committees retain control over the expenses through the annual appropriations process. Requires the administrative expenses to be included in the cost estimates for appropriations legislation for budget enforcement purposes.
(Sec. 4003) Sets forth procedures for adjustments of the allocations and aggregates included in the budget resolution. Specifies that legislation for which the House Budget Committee Chairman has made adjustments or revisions in the allocations, aggregates, and other budgetary levels of this concurrent resolution is exempt from: (1) the Cut-As-You-Go point of order, and (2) the point of order against legislation increasing long-term direct spending.
(The Cut-As-You-Go point of order prohibits the House from considering legislation that would have the net effect of increasing direct spending over specified time periods.
The long-term point of order prohibits the House from considering legislation that would cause a net increase in direct spending in excess of $5 billion in any of the 4 consecutive 10-year periods beginning with the first fiscal year that is 10 years after the budget year provided for in the most recently adopted budget resolution.
This provision effectively allows the House Budget Committee Chairman to exempt from the points of order health care legislation that qualifies for the reserve funds in title III.)
(Sec. 4004) Affirms that this budget resolution is adopted as an exercise of the rulemaking powers of the House and Senate and that either chamber has the constitutional right to change these rules.