Republicans return to Washington from the holidays with full control of Congress and an ambitious legislative agenda. At the top of the to-do list for House Speaker John Boehner and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell when Congress reconvenes Jan. 6: dismantling the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Repealing the healthcare reform law while President Barack Obama remains in office isn't going to happen. Any such effort will undoubtedly be met with a Senate filibuster and a presidential veto, and Republicans won't have the two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a veto.
But Republicans are likely to focus their efforts on picking off unpopular provisions of the law. Early in the session, that could include changing the employer mandate to only apply to workers who clock at least 40 hours per week, up from the current 30-hour-per-week threshold. Another possible candidate for early legislative action: exempting veterans with healthcare coverage from being counted as workers for purposes of the employee mandate, which applies to companies with at least 100 workers starting in 2015. They also are likely to target the 2.3% tax on medical devices, which provides $29 billion in funding for the law's premium subsidies and is disliked by some Democrats.
Stephen Northrup, a former top Senate Republican aide on health policy, points out that both the employer mandate threshold and veterans' exemption bills passed the House with bipartisan support in the past. But they never came up for votes in the Democratic-controlled Senate. “Passing these two bills would give Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell some early points on the board,” Northrup said.