One of the first thing the 115th Congress (that’s this one, the one that will be in place until it’s replaced after the 2018 midterms) did, and in fact one of the first things every Congress does, is make their own rules.
This year, that bill in the House was called H.R. 5. Officially, the “Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017.” It was introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and proud owner of a safe, R+12 congressional seat on the border of West Virginia, where he’s been entrenched since 1993. It passed the House on January 3, with the distinction of receiving zero Democratic votes in the House. Three Republicans – Thomas Massie (KY-4), Justin Amash (MI-3) and Walter Jones (NC-3) even voted against it.
The rules bill, not surprisingly, is a pretty good way for the party in control of Congress to sneak in some provisions they think will be advantageous to their success in getting their legislation done in Congress, and this year is no different. GovTrack has identified four major changes that will be in place this year, but the most important of them is the one that involves the GOP’s continued infatuation with repealing Obamacare.
Specifically, what H.R. 5 has done changed how it’s “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO is the independent organization within Congress that tells us how a bill is going to impact the overall balance sheet of the Federal government. They also will “score” bills based on how many people will be impacted, and other metrics so that we know what will happen if a bill is enacted before we actually do it. They usually project this waaaay out, 50 years to be exact. But when it comes to the impact a repeal of Obamacare will have on our budget deficit, that requirement no longer exists.
The section of H.R. 5 in question is Section 3, Subsection H: “Point of Order Against Increasing Direct Spending”
(1) Congressional Budget Office Analysis of Proposals
The Director of the Congressional Budget Office shall, to the extent practicable, prepare an estimate of whether a bill or joint resolution reported by a committee (other than the Committee on Appropriations), or amendment thereto or conference report thereon, would cause, relative to current law, a net increase in direct spending in excess of $5,000,000,000 in any of the 4 consecutive 10-fiscal year periods beginning with the first fiscal year that is 10 fiscal years after the current fiscal year.
(2) Point of Order
It shall not be in order to consider any bill or joint resolution reported by a committee, or amendment thereto or conference report thereon, that would cause a net increase in direct spending in excess of $5,000,000,000 in any of the 4 consecutive 10-fiscal year periods described in paragraph (1).
(3) Determinations of Budget Levels
For purposes of this subsection, the levels of net increases in direct spending shall be determined on the basis of estimates provided by the chair of the Committee on the Budget.
This subsection shall not apply to any bill or joint resolution, or amendment thereto or conference report thereon—
(A) repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and title I and subtitle B of title II of the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010;
(B) reforming the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010; or
(C) for which the chair of the Committee on the Budget has made an adjustment to the allocations, levels, or limits contained in the most recently adopted concurrent resolution on the budget.
Did you catch that? I know it sucks to read these things, but this is actually one of the easier wordings to get your head around. The rules package allows the CBO to flag any bill that increases the deficit by more than a certain amount as “out of order.” That’s what section 2 lays out – the rules for what the CBO should consider to be so expensive that Congress should not act on it. But further sections, specifically 4A, 4B, and 4C, specifically exempts Obamacare repeal, and only Obamacare repeal from this rule.
There was a bit of confusion about what this means the CBO can and cannot do, and Keith Ellison wrongly tweeted out that the CBO wouldn’t be allowed to score repeal at all. It can, but only over a much shorter time span. But still, what this section does is really, really clear, even for someone not used to reading legislation like myself – they’ve made a very specific, very purposeful exception to the usual CBO rules when it comes to repealing Obamacare.
Now, the obvious question is “why would the party that’s supposed to care so much about the deficit not want to know whether Obamacare repeal will add to the deficit or not?” and if you’re asking yourself that, you really are new here. Obamacare repeal, if scored by the CBO, will almost certainly add to the deficit. Republicans clearly care more about repealing Obamacare than the deficit, which makes sense when you realize there’s not much evidence they care about deficits at all when it’s their turn to run them up.
Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017 (H.R. 5) – GovTrack.us