Senate Republicans have at least one arrow in their quiver to force an uncomfortable Obamacare vote for Democrats seeking re-election in 2014.
That's one takeaway from a new letter signed by 25 GOP senators led by John Thune of South Dakota, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. The letter sent to Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell criticized an exemption from a re-insurance fee for self-insured health plans, calling the maneuver a carve-out for labor unions that run such plans.
"We demand that the rule be immediately rescinded or we will consider using options such as the Congressional Review Act ... to stop the rule from going into effect. The CRA is an important backstop against executive branch excess and overreach," the senators wrote. "It is regulations such as this one that demonstrate why a Republican-led Congress enacted this law in 1996."
The CRA established an expedited procedure that isn't subject to filibuster in the Senate to overturn department and agency rules. Substantively, the CRA almost never works because even if a joint resolution of disapproval makes it through the House and the Senate, the president could still veto it.
The process under the CRA has worked only once, when a GOP-led Congress joined with President George W. Bush to nullify an Occupational Safety and Health Administration ergonomics rule made near the end of the Clinton administration.
It isn't the first time Senate Republicans have gone down this road on health care. Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., offered a disapproval resolution back in 2010 to nullify a rule about the grandfathering of health care plans under the Affordable Care Act. Senate Democrats turned back that effort.
A CRA resolution by the GOP senators would grant special status for a simple-majority floor vote (on a motion to proceed, at least) in the middle of a contentious midterm election cycle.