The Mike Lee Moment

CPI Staff — Wednesday, July 19, 2017

In this latest iteration of the GOP health care drama, there are a handful of Senators who are defining the debate around Obamacare repeal: Rand Paul and Susan Collins, for their flat out refusal to support the BCRA in any form (though for opposite reasons); Lisa Murkowski and Shelley Moore Capito for their unabashed opposition to policies which they both supported in 2015, when an Obama veto was certain; Dean Heller, Jerry Moran and Rob Portman for embodying the tension and uncertainty existing between state level demands, campaign promises and national priorities.

But little mentioned in this debate is the fact that the GOP wouldn’t be here at all without the continued efforts of Senator Mike Lee. Indeed, it’s not an exaggeration to say that no Republican senator has done more to drive the party to keep their nearly decade long promise of full repeal.

Senator Lee’s crusade began back in 2015, when he extracted a promise from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that full Obamacare repeal would be considered in that year’s reconciliation vehicle (for full story of how he did this, read here).

Because reconciliation is a privileged measure, it is not subject to the filibuster (which requires 60 votes to break) and passes instead by a majority threshold. By guaranteeing its inclusion in the 2015 reconciliation vehicle, Senator Lee forced the Senate to take its first meaningful vote on Obamacare repeal.

Lee’s efforts formed the basis of the “2015 bill” that has once again come to prominence as the GOP struggles to determine what will constitute repeal. The Senate will again vote to proceed to it next week.

But in this latest debate, Lee again holds many of the cards. Assuming that most of the moderate support can be purchased, Lee is in a position to argue for critical policy changes to a bill that many conservatives are currently loath to support. Fundamentally, the BCRA does little to actually lower premiums for the middle class – the population most struggling under the financial burdens of Obamacare’s policies. As it stands currently, Senator Lee, with his procedural and policy know how, is in the best position to change this.

Though the outcome remains uncertain, one thing is clear. The Republican Party would not be as well positioned as they currently are without the prescient efforts of Senator Lee. He has and will continue to play a crucial role in the GOP’s quest to address Obamacare. The Senate leadership ignores him at their peril.