Senate Republicans on Thursday took a major first step toward fulfilling their long-held promise to gut President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act.
Lawmakers in the upper chamber voted 51-48 early Thursday morning in favor of a budget measure that kick-starts the process to defund parts of the law known as Obamacare. The move allows Republicans to avoid a Democratic filibuster on subsequent repeal legislation and allows final votes to be cast as early as a few weeks from now.
Democrats have mounted an aggressive counteroffensive against GOP repeal efforts in recent days, touting the benefits of the health care law and warning that Republicans will introduce chaos into the health care system by doing away with it.
Beginning Wednesday and heading into Thursday, they offered more than 150 amendments on the Senate floor over seven hours as part of what’s known as a vote-a-rama, in part intending to get Republicans on the record as voting against popular provisions of Obamacare.
None of the amendments – which included language providing for preventive care for women and allowing drugs to be imported from Canada – were accepted. And as final votes were being cast, Democrats bucked procedural rules by speaking about how angry they were about the repeal and saying it would result in millions of Americans losing coverage.
“With tonight’s vote, Republicans have pulled the first thread that will unravel our entire health care system,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a statement, warning that repeal could also affect Medicare and Medicaid programs. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said people would die as a result of repeal.
More than 20 million people have gained coverage under Obamacare through public and private plans, which include a range of health care benefits Democrats see as vital to adequate coverage.
But Democrats also have been fighting back against negative publicity surrounding other realities of the law, including that health insurers have left the Obamacare-created marketplaces, limiting choice for coverage and access to certain doctors or hospitals.
Residents in some states are seeing double-digit premium increases, and while many people’s costs are buffered by tax subsidies, roughly 6 to 9 million will bear the full impact of the cost hikes.
“I urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to work with us and stop using scare tactics – accept reality that Obamacare is fundamentally flawed and needs to be replaced,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said in a statement. “Let’s keep the momentum going and move on replacement.”
Though some Republicans have expressed concerns about the need to have a replacement plan for Obamacare ready once the law is repealed, most ultimately voted in favor of the overnight repeal-related measure. An amendment that would have given lawmakers an extension of about a month to craft repeal legislation was ultimately withdrawn.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only Republican to vote against the budget measure and has repeatedly stressed his position that Congress should not move forward on repeal until a replacement plan is hashed out.
President-elect Donald Trump has said he intends for Obamacare to be replaced at roughly the same time that it is repealed.
During a press conference Wednesday, he said details of a replacement plan would be revealed once his nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, GOP Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, is confirmed. That could lead to a date in as early as February if Price’s confirmation proceedings – a hearing is slated for next Wednesday – are not delayed.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., also said Wednesday on radio program “The Hugh Hewitt Show” that, as the host termed it, “repair and repeal” legislation would be on Trump’s desk by the end of February.
The House is expected to vote on their version of the Senate-passed measure Friday.