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Senate GOP eye alternative to CBO for scoring Cruz Amendment

July 16, 2017

Republicans are considering using alternative scoring methods for a version of Sen. Ted Cruz’s Consumer Freedom Option in order to proceed with their health care push next week rather than waiting for the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment, a Republican Senate aide told Independent Journal Review Thursday morning.

The proposal, to get the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to score a version of the Texas Republican’s amendment — which would scrap Affordable Care Act regulations for insurers who continue to offer health care plans that comply with the rules — has been floated during negotiations but not agreed to yet, the source said.

Why are Republicans looking elsewhere for a score? Because insiders expect the CBO score of Cruz’s proposal to take several weeks to complete, and the amendment language was only officially sent to CBO earlier this week.

The math just doesn’t work out, causing a dilemma for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who hopes to vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act next week.

The HHS score would speed up that timeline, but whether the score would comply with reconciliation rules, or if it would simply be symbolic — allowing Republicans to work around the parliamentarian to vote on a bill including the Cruz proposal without a CBO score — is uncertain.

One Senate GOP aide told IJR that budget projections for reconciliation measures don’t actually need to originate from the CBO, though. Simply “a score” could do, and it would be up to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) to determine what qualifies as a score under the Budget Act.

Enzi could deem an HHS score acceptable, allowing Republicans to proceed.

Such a move, which one Republican lobbyist described as “a tactical nuke,” would signify a controversial departure from using the nonpartisan budgeting office for scoring.

But Republicans have already demonstrated throughout the secretive drafting process that they’re willing to use unconventional methods to pass a health care bill.

For now, Cruz’s amendment is expected to be included in the draft version of the bill, which will be unveiled in a closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans.

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