Senate conservatives couldn’t stop a vote on the Export-Import bank. So they’re going to try to force a vote on Obamacare instead.


Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee speak to members of the media after a vote on the Senate floor September 27, 2013 . (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Conservative firebrand Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) announced on Friday that he plans to use a complicated procedural maneuver known as the nuclear option to repeal the Affordable Care Act with just 51 votes.

Democrats famously used the strategy in 2013 to break a Republican blockade of President Obama’s nominees to fill judicial openings. Now Lee wants to use the partisan procedure get rid of Obamacare.

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It’s unclear whether Lee’s gambit will work — but if it does, there are likely 51 senators who would vote to repeal Obama’s signature domestic achievement. The issue is whether such language can get a vote on the Senate floor to begin with.

Typically, legislation needs to clear a 60-vote procedural hurdle before it can even get an actual vote in the Senate. But Republicans don’t have enough anti-Obamacare support in the Senate to reach that filibuster-proof threshold. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is already preparing to prove that point on Sunday when the Senate is scheduled to vote on an Obamacare repeal amendment to the GOP leader’s three-year highway funding bill.

Lee sees that failure as an opportunity.

“Thanks to the sequencing of the votes we just locked in, Republicans will have the opportunity to resurrect that Obamacare amendment later on in the process, and put it back before the Senate in a manner that only requires a simple-majority vote,” Lee said in a press release.

Lee Communications Director Conn Carroll disputed the idea that the senator is employing the nuclear option, saying that Lee opposes changing the 60-vote threshold for normal cloture votes. He just wants to change the standard on this one amendment.

Here’s where things get complicated.

Lee said he will try to re-offer the Obamacare repeal as a special amendment that is directly related to highway funding. Under Senate rules, amendments that are directly related, or germane, to the underlying legislation can pass with just 51 votes.

Lee knows that the chair of the Senate is likely to reject his logic that Obamacare repeal is germane to highway funding, so he  plans to use the nuclear option. That means he will formally object to the ruling of the chair — requiring a 51-vote simple majority  to overturn the ruling. Then, the Republican plans to move on to the coveted simple-majority vote to repeal Obamacare.

But there’s no guarantee the plan will work. Some say Democrats could then filibuster the whole highway bill and the underlying vehicle that Republicans used to advance the highway funding, giving leaders two more chances to block Lee’s attempt.

If his plan works, Lee gets to tell his supporters that he’s responsible for a major vote to kill the health care law he reviles. The House voted to repeal the law in February, so the two chambers could then theoretically conference the bills — leaving it up to Obama to veto a bill to kill his own signature policy achievement.

Of course, he will.