Senate Takes Major Step Toward Repealing Obamacare

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 29: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during a news conference in the Capitol on the Senate agenda, September 29, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call... UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 29: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during a news conference in the Capitol on the Senate agenda, September 29, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images) MORE LESS
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate early Thursday passed a measure to take the first step forward on dismantling President Barack Obama’s health care law, responding to pressure to move quickly even as Republicans and President-elect Trump grapple with what to replace it with.

The nearly party-line 51-48 vote early Thursday came on a nonbinding Republican-backed budget measure that eases the way for action on subsequent repeal legislation as soon as next month.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against the measure, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was not present for the vote.

“We must act quickly to bring relief to the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The House is slated to vote on the measure on Friday, though some Republicans there have misgivings about setting the repeal effort in motion without a better idea of the replacement plan.

Thursday’s Senate procedural vote will set up special budget rules that will allow the repeal vote to take place with a simple majority in the 100-member Senate, instead of the 60 votes required to move most legislation.

That means Republicans, who control 52 seats, can push through repeal legislation without Democratic cooperation. They’re also discussing whether there are some elements of a replacement bill that could get through at the same time with a simple majority. But for many elements of a new health care law, Republicans are likely to need 60 votes and Democratic support, and at this point the two parties aren’t even talking.

Trump oozed confidence at a news conference on Tuesday, promising his incoming administration would soon reveal a plan to both repeal so-called Obamacare and replace it with legislation to “get health care taken care of in this country.”

“We’re going to do repeal and replace, very complicated stuff,” Trump told reporters, adding that both elements would pass virtually at the same time. That promise, however, will be almost impossible to achieve in the complicated web of Congress, where GOP leaders must navigate complex Senate rules, united Democratic opposition and substantive policy disagreements among Republicans.

Passage of Thursday’s measure would permit follow-up legislation to escape the threat of a filibuster by Senate Democrats. Republicans are not close to agreement among themselves on what any “Obamacare” replacement would look like, however.

Republicans plan to get legislation voiding Obama’s law and replacing parts of it to Trump by the end of February, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Wednesday on “The Hugh Hewitt Show,” a conservative radio program. Other Republicans have said they expect the process to take longer.

The 2010 law extended health insurance to some 20 million Americans, prevented insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and steered billions of dollars to states for the Medicaid health program for the poor. Republicans fought the effort tooth and nail and voter opposition to Obamacare helped carry the party to impressive wins in 2010, 2014, and last year.

Increasing numbers of Republicans have expressed anxiety over obliterating the law without a replacement to show voters.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she wants to at least see “a detailed framework” of a GOP alternative health care plan before voting on repeal. She said Republicans would risk “people falling through the cracks or causing turmoil in insurance markets” if lawmakers voided Obama’s statute without a replacement in hand.

Collins was among a handful of Republicans to occasionally break ranks to support some Democratic messaging amendments aimed at supporting such things as rural hospitals and a mandate to cover patients with pre-existing medical conditions. They were all shot down by majority Republicans anyway.

House leaders planned a Friday vote on the budget, though Republicans in that chamber also had misgivings.

Many members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus were insisting on first learning details about what a GOP substitute would look like — or putting some elements of the replacement measure in the repeal bill.

“We need to be voting for a replacement plan at the same time that we vote for repeal,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., an influential conservative.

Some GOP senators have discussed a phase-in of three years or longer to give lawmakers more time to replace Obama’s overhaul and make sure people now covered by that law can adjust to a new program.

Some more moderate House Republicans were unhappy, too, including Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., a leader of GOP centrists in the House Tuesday Group. He said he would oppose the budget because there was too little information about the replacement, including whether people receiving expanded Medicaid coverage or health care subsidies under the existing law would be protected.

“We’re loading a gun here,” MacArthur said. “I want to know where it’s pointed before we start the process.”

Additional reporting by TPM Staff.

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Notable Replies

  1. Oh, you dear Republicans - always with the gun metaphor. Where is it pointed, Tom? The cold metal is pressed against your temple while you think it’s pointed at the Democrats on the other side of the room. When it goes off, you would be surprised if you weren’t dead.

  2. Avatar for hquain hquain says:

    “We must act quickly to bring relief to the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY.

    There used to be some comfort in the thought that Leader McConnell R-KY was merely a cynical schemer, albeit at a world-historical level. I’m beginning to worry that he is literally crazy.

  3. Thoughtful, important, long-term parts of ACA, the stuff people won’t appreciate until they need it --like caps , and stuff that takes time to show dividends, like preventive care and cost controls, are the easiest to get rid of by hucksters for short-term thining voters. That’s painful to watch.

    But this is also true: Without ACA, we would not be having a conversation or policy fight over HOW to cover as many people as possible fairly. No way the GOP would be doing this at all. Obama, Pelosi, and Reid reframed this discussion and expectation for the nation. That’s a positive.

  4. True, but that’s a pretty thin reed on which to base one’s happiness. They are going to blow it up without a clue about how to put it back together. And I can’t see a way that they’ll be able to agree on any replacement. What they’ll try to do is time the death knell for after the next presidential election; that much they can agree on.

  5. I think they’ve learned they can’t just kill national health insurance. Tom freaking Cotton even said so. It’s a different world now. And it cost DEMs a ton politically to do it, but it was for the national good, at least in terms of the macro-healthcare expectation.

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