Repeal & Replace on life support — Seven GOP senators defect

WASHINGTON, D.C. Be thankful for small things, like a 51-50 vote to bring ObamaCare to the Senate floor for debate, but don’t get too excited. Seven Republican senators really bailed Tuesday night in a follow up vote.

Senate Republicans voted Tuesday to open debate on repealing Obamacare, dramatically reviving an effort that many GOP lawmakers left for dead just a few days ago.

The vote is a huge political win and turnaround for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans who’ve promised for seven years to repeal Obamacare if voters gave them control of Congress and the White House.


Advertisement

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), recently diagnosed with brain cancer, entered the chamber to a standing ovation before casting his vote. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) got on board only after engaging in a long conversation on the Senate floor with McConnell. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska broke ranks to oppose the measure, forcing Vice President Mike Pence to break a 50-50 tie.

All Democrats opposed the measure. Underscoring the significance of the vote, many senators sat at their desks for the vote.

The vote is no guarantee that the fractured Republican caucuses can coalesce around a single health care plan.

“There’s a lot of work ahead of us and I don’t think anybody’s taking anything for granted,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). “If we can get something by the end of this week through the Senate it would at least position us so that we can get to conference with the House.”

Now that debate has officially started, Republicans in the Senate lack 50 votes on a policy. Moderates oppose repealing Obamacare without a replacement, and conservatives don’t like the idea of significantly replacing it.

Both policies are expected to get a vote, but both are expected to fail. In addition, the Senate will vote on key amendment — a proposal by Sen. Ted Cruz to allow insurers to sell plans not covered by Obamacare rules and a plan from Sen. Rob Portman to move people covered by Medicaid expansion to private insurance.

Those proposals had been combined with the broader GOP plan to replace Obamacare, a bill that has been under development in the Senate for two months but was set aside last week when it became clear there wouldn’t be 50 GOP votes.

Nine conservative and moderate Republicans joined all Democrats on a 43-57 vote that effectively killed the measure Tuesday evening.

Republicans who voted to reject their party’s repeal-and-replace plan were Collins, Murkowski, and Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Dean Heller of Nevada, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Mike Lee of Utah.

Commentary

Let the horse trading and arm twisting begin. It was a victory for the GOP Leadership and President Trump that the bill was allowed to proceed but it is far from over. The question is whether seven Republicans (the number necessary to switch their vote Tuesday night to ultimately pass a replacement) would rather it be the way they want it, or keep ObamaCare as it is. If  these seven  Republicans who are currently taking a “no” position don’t switch to “yes” on something at least 51 can agree on,  then ObamaCare continues. We predict that most are playing bargaining chips and in the end they will not be able to withstand the pressure from the President and their constituents to save ObamaCare.  They’ll get as much as they can, but in the end will vote to Repeal and Replace, if not totally, over time.