Here's why Congress exempted itself from the Obamacare replacement bill

Last week, Vox dug into the Republican healthcare bill and found a provision that exempts Congress and its staff from many of the bill's effects.

This provision was bad "optics," as they say in Washington.

But instead of taking it out (like you would usually do with a provision you aren't wedded to and can't defend politically) the House passed the American Health Care Act with the exemption intact, after first passing an entirely separate bill that would repeal the exemption that would be created in the AHCA, if both bills became law.

There's a reason for this mess, and it's not about Republicans in Congress not wanting to be subject to their own law.

It's about Senate procedure.

RELATED: A look at the American Health Care Act

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WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: Republican House members join U.S. President Donald Trump on stage as he speaks during a Rose Garden event May 4, 2017 at the White House in Washington, DC. The House has passed the American Health Care Act that will replace the Obama era� Affordable Healthcare Act with a vote of 217-213. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a Stop 'Trumpcare' rally May 4, 2017 in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Congressional Democrats joined activists for a rally to urge not to replace Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) (R) greets House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L) during a Stop 'Trumpcare' rally May 4, 2017 in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Congressional Democrats joined activists for a rally to urge not to replace Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: U.S. President Donald Trump shares a moment with Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) during a Rose Garden event May 4, 2017 at the White House in Washington, DC. The House has passed the American Health Care Act that will replace the Obama era� Affordable Healthcare Act with a vote of 217-213. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L) gestures as Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wait for their turns to speak during a Stop 'Trumpcare' rally May 4, 2017 in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Congressional Democrats joined activists for a rally to urge not to replace Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 4: Charlie Wood, 4, of Charlottesville, Va., plays with bubbles during rally on the East Front lawn of the Capitol to oppose the House Republicans' bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on May 4, 2017. She was born 3 1/2 months earlier and her mother Rebecca, at left, holding a picture of Charlie in the hospital, fears changes to the ACA will negatively effect her care. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House following the House of Representative vote on the health care bill on May 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. Following weeks of in-party feuding and mounting pressure from the White House, lawmakers voted 217 to 213 to pass a bill dismantling much of Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act and allowing US states to opt out of many of the law's key health benefit guarantees / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner listen to US President Donald Trump speak in the Rose Garden of the White House following the House of Representative vote on the health care bill on May 4, 2017 in Washington, D Following weeks of in-party feuding and mounting pressure from the White House, lawmakers voted 217 to 213 to pass a bill dismantling much of Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act and allowing US states to opt out of many of the law's key health benefit guarantees / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 9: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., conducts a presentation in the House studio of the American Health Care Act, the GOP's plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, March 9, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07: U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price compares a copy of the Affordable Care Act (R) and a copy of the new House Republican health care bill (L) during the White House daily press briefing March 7, 2017 at the White House in Washington, DC. Secretary Price answered questions on the new healthcare bill during the briefing. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the media about the American Health Care Act at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 13: U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (L) and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney talk to reporters following the release of the Congressional Budget Office report on the proposed American Health Care Act outside the White House West Wing March 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. Price said 'We disagree strenuously' with the findings of the CBO report about the Republican's attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks at a news conference about Congressional efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (4th L) delivers remarks at the beginning of a meeting with representatives of conservative political organizations to discuss the American Health Care Act in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building March 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price led the meeting that included representatives from the Cato Institute, Tea Party Patriots, the American Conservative Union, Freedom Works, the American Legislative Exchange Council and other conservative groups. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the media about the American Health Care Act at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: (L-R) U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump greet House of Representatives committee leaders (L-R) House Budget Committee Chairwoman Diane Black (R-TN), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-WA) and Education and Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) before a meeting to discuss the American Health Care Act in the Roosevelt Room at the White House March 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. The proposed legislation is the Republican attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the media about the American Health Care Act at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price speaks about efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare and the advancement of the American Health Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A copy of Obamacare repeal and replace recommendations (L) produced by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives sit next to a copy of the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
(L-R) U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and U.S. Representative Greg Walden hold a news conference on the American Health Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
UNITED STATES - MARCH 14: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., attend a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to voice opposition to House Republican's health care plan, the American Health Care Act, March 14, 2017. The event featured testimony from patients and doctors who benefit from the Affordable Care Act. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 14: From left, Dr. Alice T. Chen, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Maggie Hassn, D-N.H., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., attend a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to voice opposition to House Republican's health care plan, the American Health Care Act, March 14, 2017. The event featured testimony from patients and doctors who benefit from the Affordable Care Act. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks at a news conference about Congressional efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 08: House Energy and Commerce Committee staff members work during a markup hearing on the proposed American Health Care Act, the Republican attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. House Republicans were rushing the legislation through the powerful Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means committees, aiming for a full House vote next week. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07: House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) (R) and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) (L) arrive for a news conference on the newly announced American Health Care Act at the U.S. Capitol March 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. House Republicans yesterday released details on their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, with a more conservative agenda that includes individual tax credits and grants for states replacing federal insurance subsidies. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (L) looks on as US Secretary of Health and Human Service Tom Price (R) points to a print-out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a copy of the new plan introduced to repeal and replace the ACA during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC on March 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07: House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) (L) and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) (R) answer questions during a news conference on the newly announced American Health Care Act at the U.S. Capitol March 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. House Republicans yesterday released details on their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, with a more conservative agenda that includes individual tax credits and grants for states replacing federal insurance subsidies. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 4: Protesters yell 'shame'' to members of Congress on the East Front of the Capitol after the House passed the Republicans' bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on May 4, 2017. The protesters support the ACA. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a Stop 'Trumpcare' rally May 4, 2017 in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Congressional Democrats joined activists for a rally to urge not to replace Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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As you may have read, Republicans are attempting to pass the AHCA through a process called "reconciliation." This process, created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, allows the Senate to pass certain bills relating to the federal budget with just a simple majority. There is no need to get 60 votes (and, in this case, some Democratic support) as there is for other legislation.

There are a variety of complex rules governing what matters may and may not be considered through reconciliation.

One of those is that reconciliation must be conducted pursuant to reconciliation instructions passed by both chambers of Congress. That happened earlier this year: Congress sent reconciliation instructions to two Senate committees (Finance; and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) that were designed to allow those committees to write bills making changes to healthcare policy.

The problem, as the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget explains, is that Congress' own healthcare is governed by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and that committee was not sent any reconciliation instructions.

Therefore, if a reconciliation bill makes changes to the way Congress gets its healthcare, it might become subject to a 60-vote threshold, because it addresses a matter that is supposed to be the purview of a committee that doesn't get to participate in reconciliation this year.

Why would the AHCA need to touch Congress' healthcare in the first place? Because Obamacare included, at Republican urging, a provision requiring members of Congress and their staffs to buy insurance through the Obamacare exchanges.

That Republicans are in this position at all reflects how rushed and ad-hoc their healthcare policy making process has been. They set about passing reconciliation instructions right after taking office because they hoped to repeal Obamacare very quickly. Since they didn't know what their eventual repeal strategy would be, they didn't know which committees would ultimately need reconciliation instructions, and now it's too late for them to change which ones have them.

Now, their hope is to enact the AHCA and the companion bill that undoes the congressional exemption created by the AHCA. That companion passed the House on Thursday unanimously with Democratic and Republican votes.

In the Senate, that bill would need 60 votes to pass, because it's not a reconciliation matter.

Democrats clearly like the talking point that Republicans exempted Congress from the AHCA — and if the AHCA gets enacted, Democrats will have the power to filibuster the companion bill and make it true as a matter of law. But politically, I'm not sure how it would land, as Republicans could say they are trying to apply the AHCA to Congress and it's Democrats who are blocking that simple bill from becoming law.

Of course, in all likelihood the Senate will pass a healthcare bill that differs extensively from the AHCA, which might make moot the whole matter of needing to change the rules about Congress' healthcare.

NOW WATCH: Watch a Trump surrogate get shut down after calling Trump the 'Martin Luther King of healthcare'

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SEE ALSO: 'Trying to force a giraffe through a keyhole': An obscure Senate rule could kill the GOP's Obamacare replacement

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