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Senate Approves First Step Toward Obamacare Repeal

The Senate passed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s motion to proceed on the upper chamber’s healthcare reform bills Tuesday, a move that will allow senators to vote on both the 2015 Obamacare repeal bill and the leadership’s healthcare reform legislation. If either bill ultimately passes, it will repeal large sections of Obamacare.

This Senate vote starts the first step towards repealing and replacing Obamacare.

The motion passed after moderate and conservative Republicans opposed the Senate leadership’s healthcare bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). Moderate senators such as Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) worried about the bill’s cuts to Medicaid and pre-existing conditions, while conservative senators such as Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) complained that the bill does not do enough to repeal Obamacare.

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell’s motion to proceed will start 20 hours of debate on the Senate healthcare bill.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), whose vote was necessary, returned to the Senate to vote to approve the motion to proceed after his recent brain tumor diagnosis.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said, “It’s probably more drama than it deserves for a motion to proceed.”

Sen. Collins and Murkowski voted against the motion to proceed on the Senate healthcare bill.

Rand Paul and Mike Lee voted to approve the measure to begin debate on health care in exchange for the opportunity to vote on the 2015 clean Obamacare repeal bill.

McConnell enticed many reluctant senators to vote for the motion to proceed by allowing Senate Republicans to offer amendments to the BCRA.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), a member of Senate leadership, explained, “That then comes to the Senate, and then we can vote, once we get on that bill, to amend it in various ways. And lots of members have different ideas on how it should be best amended to replace what is really a failing Obama healthcare plan.”

Senate leadership will then offer substitute amendments to the provisions that the Senate parliamentarian ruled did not comply with the chamber’s budgetary reconciliation rules.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled that the following provisions do not comply with budgetary reconciliation:

  • The measure withdrawing funding for Planned Parenthood for one year.
  • The bill’s provision preventing Americans from using health care tax credits on plans that cover abortion.
  • Obamacare subsidies for health insurers, otherwise known as the cost-sharing reduction program.
  • A six-month waiting period for individuals who failed to maintain health insurance coverage.

The parliamentarian still must review some of the Senate bill’s language, such as:

  • State waivers for Obamacare insurance regulations such as essential health benefits.
  • A measure allowing small businesses to establish association health plans.
  • A rule change allowing insurers to charge older Americans more than younger citizens compared to the rules stipulated under Obamacare.
  • The rule allowing states to receive Medicaid as a block grant instead of a per capita cap.

Sen. Cruz previously argued that Vice President Mike Pence should overrule the Senate parliamentarian’s decision to bar several provisions on the BCRA.

“Under the Budget Act of 1974, which is what governs reconciliation, it is the presiding officer, the vice president of the United States, who rules on what’s permissible on reconciliation and what is not,” Cruz explained. “That’s a conversation I’ve been having with a number of my colleagues.”

Sen. Paul revealed that after the Senate votes to proceed on health care, they will vote on the 2015 Obamacare repeal bill.

Senators continue to work on last-minute compromises for the leadership’s BCRA bill. Sens. Ted Cruz and Rob Portman (R-OH) reportedly will work on a deal to revive Ted Cruz’s consumer freedom amendment while adding more money to help states stabilize their insurance markets. Cruz’s amendment would allow insurers to offer more affordable health plans that do not comply with Obamacare regulations as long as they offer plans that do comply with the Obamacare rules. Sens. Mike Lee and Jerry Moran (R-KS) previously tanked the BCRA after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell watered down the consumer freedom amendment.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) released a statement right before the vote that he would support the motion to proceed. Heller said, “Obamacare isn’t the answer, but doing nothing to try to solve the problems it has created isn’t the answer either. That is why I will vote to move forward and give us a chance to address the unworkable aspects of the law that have left many Nevadans – particularly those living in rural areas – with dwindling or no choices. Whether it’s my ideas to protect Nevadans who depend on Medicaid or the Graham-Cassidy proposal that empowers states and repeals the individual and employer mandates, there are commonsense solutions that could improve our health care system and today’s vote gives us the opportunity to fight for them. If the final product isn’t improved for the state of Nevada, then I will not vote for it; if it is improved, I will support it.”

Vice President Mike Pence was present at the Senate for the motion to proceed and presided over the vote as President of the Senate.

President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that Republicans now have the opportunity to begin the process to repeal Obamacare.

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