President-elect Donald Trump wants to repeal Obamacare as soon as he becomes president. But there may not be a bill for Trump to sign into law on his first day in the Oval Office.
Ahead of Trump’s inauguration on January 20, Republicans are preparing to move as swiftly as possible to repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act in the next Congress. With control over both the House and the Senate — and soon the White House — dismantling the Affordable Care Act is the Republican Party’s most urgent priority for the new year.
But senior GOP congressional aides say getting a bill to Trump’s desk could take weeks, and even possibly a few months. It is not out of the question that the new president will have to wait until February or later to take pen to paper.
And that’s the easiest part.
The process that comes next — figuring out how to replace what’s been repealed — will be highly complicated and drawn-out. And GOP sources are already cautioning that there may never be one, comprehensive “replace Obamacare” bill.
Here are the movements we expect to see on Capitol Hill on repealing Obamacare during the first months of 2017:
Pass a budget resolution
Passing a budget resolution will put the wheels of repeal in motion.
As soon as lawmakers return to Capitol Hill on January 3, Senate Republicans intend to introduce a budget resolution — the first step to putting the “repeal Obamacare” wheels into motion.
This resolution’s primary purpose will be to serve as a vehicle for repeal, so it is expected to be relatively bare-bones. Befitting their excitement, some Republicans are referring to this budget resolution as the “repeal resolution.”
Before both the Senate and the House vote to pass the resolution, there could be some delays: 50 hours of debate are allowed in the Senate, for example, and Democrats could introduce numerous amendments to purposefully slow down the process.
That showdown will likely serve as a public airing of grievances on Obamacare for lawmakers in both parties.
Pass a reconciliation bill
The reconciliation bill is what gives Republicans the power to repeal key parts of Obamacare.
It allows lawmakers to tackle budget and revenue provisions such as tax cuts or deficit reduction measures. The last time Republicans passed this bill, they proposed axing subsidies for the marketplaces, Medicaid expansion and the individual mandate penalties.
But getting the bill passed is a multi-step process. In theory, relevant committees would have to meet and do markups ,before sending the bill over to the Budget Committees, which will produce the final version. (The “in theory” is an umbrella caveat for now — GOP aides say they are exploring possible shortcuts to speed up the process.)
And once the bill reaches the House and Senate, again, Democrats could slow down the process by attaching a slew of amendments. All of these steps is the reason that GOP aides predict it could be a while before anything lands on Trump’s desk.
The good news for Republicans is that the budget reconciliation is a fast-track process that can pass with just a simple majority in the Senate, meaning they won’t need help from Democratic colleagues.
Trump signs the bill
Once the reconciliation bill is approved, it lands on the president’s desk.
President Barack Obama vetoed the bill the last time Republicans sent him the reconciliation bill. But next year, of course, Trump will be eager to sign it into law.
The hardest part: Replace
If it takes a handful of weeks to a few months to repeal Obamacare, replacing it will be a much slower process.
And Republican aides are saying there may not be one overarching “replace” bill. One senior Republican aide said the party will look for legislative opportunities to get “pieces” of Obamacare reform through — a process that could drag out for years.