WASHINGTON -- Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee voted Thursday to shield attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act from objections that it would add to the government's budget deficit.
The budget resolution for 2016 includes what are known as reconciliation instructions that tell several congressional committees to come up with ways to undo Obamacare. Such reconciliation measures only require 51 votes to pass in the Senate.
But the spending plan also includes language that allows lawmakers to raise what are known as budget points of order against any legislation that would add more than $5 billion to the deficit, and block it. According to the last estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, repealing Obamcare would add $210 billion to the deficit.
That would seem to make it likely that any Obamacare repeal effort would run afoul of a point of order, which takes 60 votes to surmount. So, later in the resolution, it exempts an attempt to repeal Obamacare from those points of order.
"What we have in this budget is a very interesting situation," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who offered an amendment to make the deficit rules apply to Obamacare repeal.
"We have a point of order in the budget for anything that adds to the deficit, but we have a section that specifically excludes the Affordable Care Act from that," Stabenow said. "So think about it. This budget is conceding the fact that the Affordable Care Act has reduced the deficit, and repealing the law would increase the deficit."
Stabenow also alluded a related problem the GOP budget ignores: At the same time that it instructs Congress to come up with a repeal, it continues to count all the revenue that the Affordable Care Act is expected to raise -- and which the government wouldn't collect if the law is dismantled.
"You can’t rig the rules on both sides," Stabenow said. "That’s not fair. I would argue that’s really budget gimmickry. I think it’s important if you are going to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, you have to step up and assume the consequences of that."
Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) did not dispute Stabenow's claim, but seemed to think it was irrelevant, since even if a point of order applies to a repeal measure, it still could be overridden if 60 senators vote to do so. That's the same filibuster-proof number it takes to pass controversial legislation.
And while using budget reconciliation instructions prevents filibusters -- so something can pass with just 51 votes -- many parts of the Affordable Care Act could not be legally included in such a measure. And even if they could, it would take a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto that would be certain to follow.
"I think that probably any repeal is probably going to take at least 60 votes, and probably 67 votes," Enzi said.
Still, Stabenow countered that her amendment was useful in making clear what was actually happening in the name of "honest budgeting."
Republicans opposed Stabenow's amendment on a party-line vote, 12 to 10, and passed the budget by the same tally.
The measure is expected to be on the Senate floor next week.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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