Once more unto the breach.
The Senate returned to session Thursday at 10 a.m. ET with 10 hours of debate left on the official clock before the start of an expected hours-long “vote-a-rama” on amendments. That is expected to end with a crucial vote to repeal Obamacare late Thursday night or, more likely, past midnight on Friday morning. But what exactly that vote will be on—and what comes in between now and then—are mysteries to most senators.
The only vote that was officially on the schedule as of Thursday morning was a GOP amendment put up by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) to try to force Democrats on the record as to whether they support a single-payer plan for healthcare.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the leading champion of single payer, has already said he’ll vote against it, and most Democrats are expected to follow suit when the vote comes to the floor around 2:15 p.m. ET.
Past that, it’s anyone’s guess how the Senate’s day rumbles along ahead of a dramatic vote for the GOP to keep alive their efforts to repeal Obamacare—most likely using a “skinny repeal” option that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) still hasn’t shared with lawmakers.
“Senators will have the opportunity to consider many, many more amendments here tonight,” McConnell said Thursday morning as the Senate came back into session. “We know it is likely to be a very long night.”
According to Reuters, Republicans’ current plan is to actually write that skinny plan early Thursday afternoon during their weekly policy luncheon beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET. Rumor has it that moderates from states that expanded Medicaid are pushing for money for opioid treatment programs.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) declared Wednesday evening that Democrats wouldn’t offer any amendments until McConnell officially unveiled that plan, which is rumored to contain repeals of the employer and individual mandates as well as the medical device tax, but could contain other options. That means both sides may play a waiting game until Republicans drop their bill — before Democrats unload dozens, and potentially hundreds, of amendments.
It’s still unclear if McConnell actually has the votes to pass his “skinny” plan. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) voiced skepticism about it on Wednesday and moderates like Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have said they want to see what the bill actually is before voting on it.
But most Republicans seem reluctantly on board with the plan to keep Obamacare repeal efforts alive. Lawmakers in both parties expect that McConnell has the votes to squeeze the bill through, allowing it to get to a conference with House leaders where they can try to achieve what McConnell failed to do on his own and come up with a plan that can pass both chambers.
With uncertainty about whether just a few amendments will be offered or a bucketload of them, anyone outside McConnell’s office is purely guessing at what the day might hold.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) told TPM Thursday morning, with a note of uncertainty and a quizzical half-shrug, that he thought votes were expected “late afternoon.”
McConnell’s office said time was likely to expire “this afternoon/early evening,” and promised other amendments after Daines’s, although an aide declined to say what those would be.
“I don’t know if Dems will continue to miss opportunities to have amendments,” said a McConnell aide.
Democrats are even more in the dark.
“We have ten hours of debate left, no sense of anything after 2:15,” one Democratic leadership aide told TPM.
Stay tuned for what could be a wild day, and night.
This story was updated at 2:08 p.m. to more accurately reflect the process of the vote-a-rama.