The Latest

Obscure Senate Procedure Could Make a Terrible Repeal Bill Slightly Less Terrible

Yesterday, was rough.

But we have to keep fighting. For you and me, that means calling our Senators and telling everyone we know to call theirs. For Senate Democrats it means voting against repeal, and in the meantime using obscure Senate procedure to try and mitigate the damage of this bill. They can use a relatively unknown rule called the Byrd Rule to get rid of some of the bill’s harmful restrictions. We’re expecting them to use the Byrd rule to get rid of certain provisions that target women’s health.

Every version of the Republican repeal bill has had one thing in common—each threatens women’s access to comprehensive health care, including abortion.  Among the ways they manage this is by penalizing women who want to buy comprehensive insurance plans that cover abortion by denying them the tax credit they need to make insurance affordable. The result would be the elimination of private insurance coverage of abortion.  Plus, each bill has “defunded” Planned Parenthood, blocking millions of patients enrolled in Medicaid from accessing critical health care services at Planned Parenthood clinics, including birth control, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

Where the Byrd Rule Comes In

Thankfully, the Byrd Rule may be used to strike these provisions. The Byrd Rule applies to all reconciliation bills– the type of bill Republican members of Congress are trying to use to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The reason Republicans are doing ACA repeal as a reconciliation bill is because reconciliation bills only need 51 votes to pass the Senate, and they know they can’t get the usual 60 they need to pass ACA repeal through the regular process. But here’s the kicker: reconciliation bills are supposed to be about the federal government’s budget. That’s where the Byrd Rule comes in. The Byrd Rule says provisions that do not affect the budget cannot be included in a reconciliation bill. In other words, you can’t use reconciliation to pass whatever you want and skirt the usual democratic process.

The Abortion Coverage and Planned Parenthood Defunding Provisions are about Politics, Not Finances

The restrictions on abortion coverage and targeting Planned Parenthood are blatant violations of the Byrd Rule. These provisions aren’t about the budget, they are about making it harder for women to access abortion. These provisions won’t have any budgetary impact. It’s clear that they were added to the bill not because of budgetary reasons, but in order to restrict abortion, earning the endorsement of extreme advocacy groups hostile to abortion. But you don’t need to take our word for it. The Parliamentarian, the Senate procedural expert who gets to actually apply the Byrd rule, agrees. Last Friday she ruled that both the abortion coverage restrictions and defunding Planned Parenthood violate the Byrd Rule.

What Happens Next

The ruling by the parliamentarian is great news, but it doesn’t mean we’re in the clear on these provisions just yet.  While debating the repeal bill, a senator has to actually make a motion to have these harmful provisions removed from the bill because they violate the Byrd rule. Because the parliamentarian has said these provisions violate the Byrd rule, they should come out. But if sixty senators are dead set on making it impossible for women to get the reproductive health care they need, they can vote to overrule the parliamentarian.

Constant Vigilance

The next few days will be tough, as the Senate debates the many different ways Republicans have proposed to take health care away from millions. But the use of obscure Senate procedure to stop repeal from defunding Planned Parenthood and eliminating private insurance coverage of abortion may be a bright spot.