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December 13, 2017

What Doug Jones' Alabama victory means for health care

Daily Briefing

    Doug Jones on Tuesday was elected Alabama's next senator, becoming the first Democrat in the state to be elected to the U.S. Senate in more than two decades and complicating Republicans' efforts to revamp health care policy.

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    Republicans currently hold 52 seats in the Senate, but Jones' win over Republican candidate Roy Moore means that after Jones is sworn in, Republicans will control 51 seats and Democrats will control 47. According to Politico, the narrower majority could affect Senate Republicans' ability to pass major legislative reforms, which they have sought to pass through the budget reconciliation process. That process allows certain bills to pass the Senate by a simple majority of 51 votes without being subject to a filibuster.

    Under that process, Republicans currently can only afford to lose two votes—if all Democrats vote against a measure—with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie breaking vote. But in January, when Jones is expected to be sworn in to office, that threshold will fall to just one vote.

    What this means for GOP's health reform efforts

    Senate Republicans earlier this year could not secure the 50 votes needed to pass health reform legislation when they had the two-vote majority. President Trump in October said Republicans in 2018 will continue legislative efforts to repeal the ACA, but the special election means they will be doing so with even less leeway.

    Republicans currently are using the same process to try to pass tax reform legislation before the end of the year. According to the Washington Post, a final tax reform bill could be released as early as today, and observers say it is likely to include a provision in the Senate-passed bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate penalty.

    In light of Alabama's special election, Democrats are urging their Republican colleagues to slow down and wait to vote on a final tax reform bill until 2018, when Jones is likely to be sworn in.

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) during a press conference Wednesday called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to delay a final vote on tax reform. "It would be wrong for Senate Republicans to jam though this tax bill" without allowing Jones to vote, Schumer said.

    He noted that Republicans made a similar argument during the 2009-2010 health reform debate when Republican Scott Brown (Mass.) won the January 2010 special election. According to Politico, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) heeded those concerns and said Democrats would "wait until the new senator arrives until we do anything more on health care."

    However, Antonia Ferrier, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said Republicans have no plans of delaying the tax reform bill. "We are moving ahead as we always have been on the same timeline we’ve been talking about for months."

    According to the Washington Post, GOP aides on Tuesday said lawmakers plan to file a final tax reform bill by Friday and will hold public events to discuss the bill on Wednesday (Sullivan et al., Washington Post, 12/13; Min Kim, Politico, 12/13; Kirby, Vox, 12/12; Scott, Vox, 12/12; Pramuk, CNBC, 12/13; Werner/Paletta, Washington Post, 12/12; DeBonis/O'Keefe, Washington Post, 12/13).

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