Sen. Mike Lee will find himself in the middle of the debate on the Affordable Care Act on Monday, as well as between two colleagues running for president.
The Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Steering Committee is joining fellow Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida in their opposition to anything short of a full repeal of the law. The topic will likely come up in a meeting Monday of Senate Republicans, and the chamber could begin debating it under the budget reconciliation process as early as Dec. 2.
“There are a few of us who have expressed concerns," Lee said in an interview in his office before the Thanksgiving recess. "We just want to make sure that we are taking full advantage of the opportunity; that we are doing as much as we can consistent with the rules.”
Cruz and Rubio have used full repeal as a rallying cry on the trail, much like the rest of the GOP field.
Full repeal is unlikely under the rules of reconciliation — the procedure used to revise programs to match spending levels called for in the budget resolution. A reconciliation measure requires only a majority to pass, getting around filibuster hurdles in the Senate.
But the Senate parliamentarian has expressed doubts that a reconciliation measure can fully repeal the law. That has led Lee, Cruz and Rubio to say they won't support anything short of full repeal.
The House passed a reconciliation measure before the break that repealed some of the the law's mandates and taxes, plus defunded Planned Parenthood.
In the Senate, the math is complicated. If all 100 senators cast votes and Democrats oppose the measure, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will need 51 of his 54 Republicans to pass it. If language to block funding for Planned Parenthood is added, the Kentucky Republican could lose some of the more moderate members of his caucus. If he loses Lee, Rubio and Cruz over the issue of full repeal, he's nowhere near a majority.
Lee insists he and his cohorts support the repeal effort — with the right language.
His place in the reconciliation debate is just the latest way he's used his Steering Committee position to maximize his influence.
“A lot of what I do as part of the Steering Committee is a natural outgrowth of what I’ve been doing since I’ve been here,” he said. “There’s a little bit more of it, but it’s consistent with what I’ve tried to do all along. … It involves a lot of the nuts and bolts of the legislative process.”
The legislative process spells out the challenge of passing a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, whether it's getting the parliamentarian to sign off or, ultimately, the presiding officer, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who opposes the changes.
Regardless, Lee will find himself in the middle of the fight.
Correction, 9:27 p.m. An earlier version of this story misstated the nature of the Monday GOP meeting.