Republicans Can Use Senate Rules to Force Vote

by Gary Palmer

Now that H.R. 2, the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), passed the House of Representatives, the nation’s attention will turn to the Senate. If there is to be a repeal vote before the 2012 election, Republicans must be willing to use the rules of the Senate to force the issue.

When bills are passed by the House, they are sent to the Senate for consideration. When the bill is received, it is referred to a committee. Brian Darling, the director of government relations at The Heritage Foundation, recently explained in his blog that in order to force a Senate vote on the House bill, two procedural steps must be taken.

The first step is that a senator must use Senate Rule 14 to prevent H.R. 2 from being assigned to a committee in the Senate. Darling points out that once the repeal bill is assigned to a Senate committee, the Democrats still in the majority in the Senate will prevent a hearing and a vote to get it out of committee. However, with a letter or phone call to the party leader, any senator can invoke Rule 14 to hold H.R. 2 at the Senate desk. In effect, implementing this rule would bypass the committee process and put the bill directly on the Senate calendar.

This puts it in position for the Senate Majority Leader to begin debate at any time. Given that the Senate Majority Leader is Harry Reid (D-NV), it is almost certain that the bill will not be brought up for debate. In order to get the bill up, Republicans will have to initiate the second procedural step by invoking Senate Rule 22, the filibuster rule.

Under Rule 22, any senator who can get 16 other senators to sign a cloture petition would force a cloture vote to limit the delay of a pending matter. It is unlikely that 13 Democrat senators would be willing to vote with 47 Republicans to bring H.R. 2 up for debate and a vote because a cloture vote puts every senator on record, for or against repeal. The Republicans can continue to use Rule 22 to keep the issue front and center going into the 2012 election.

In the meantime, pressure to repeal continues to mount as more and more information about the scope and cost of the health care law reaches the public. There are currently 26 states that have filed suit in federal court to block the implementation of the individual mandate provision in the law that one federal judge has already ruled is unconstitutional. These efforts are peeling the veneer from a law that will exert unprecedented control over the lives of almost all Americans at a cost far greater than Obama and the Democrats told the American people at the time of its passage.

Now that the bill is law and people are seeing what is really in it and what it is going to cost, there is strong public opinion in favor of repealing the bill and starting over. While the first objective should be to repeal the government takeover of our health care system, the Republicans must also have a sensible and affordable health care reform bill to offer as an alternative.

Darling wrote, “At a minimum, Senators have the power to force a vote on full repeal of Obamacare if they have the will to do so.” By doing so, Republicans can make it clear that they are once again the party that stands for smaller government, fiscal discipline and respect for individual rights.

Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society

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