Senate opens ‘Obamacare’ debate at last but outcome in doubt
Prodded by President Donald Trump, a bitterly divided Senate voted at last Tuesday to move forward with the Republicans’ longpromised legislation to repeal and replace “Obamacare.” There was high drama as Sen. John McCain returned to the Capitol for the first time after being diagnosed with brain cancer to cast a decisive “yes” vote.
The final tally was 51-50, with Vice-President Mike Pence breaking the tie after two Republicans joined all 48 Democrats in voting “no.”
With all senators in their seats and protesters agitating outside and briefly inside the chamber, the vote was held open at length before McCain, 80, entered the chamber. Greeted by cheers, he smiled and dispensed hugs - but with the scars from recent surgery starkly visible on the left side of his face. Despite voting “yes,” he took a lecturing tone afterward and hardly saw success assured for the legislation after weeks of misfires, even after Tuesday’s victory for Trump and Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
“If this process ends in failure, which seems likely, then let’s return to regular order,” McCain said as he chided Republican leaders for devising the legislation in secret along with the administration and “springing it on skeptical members.”
“Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio, TV and internet. To hell with them!” McCain said, raising his voice as he urged senators to reach for the comity of earlier times.
At the White House, though, Trump wasted no time in declaring a win and slamming the Democrats anew.
“I’m very happy to announce that, with zero of the Democrats’ votes, the motion to proceed on health care has just passed. And now we move forward toward truly great health care for the American people,” Trump said. “This was a big step. I want to thank Senator John McCain - very brave man.”
At its most basic, the Republican legislation is aimed at undoing Obamacare’s unpopular mandates for most people to carry insurance and businesses to offer it. The GOP would repeal Obamacare taxes and unwind an expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor, the disabled and nursing home residents The result would be 20 million to 30 million people losing insurance over a decade, depending on the version of the bill.
The GOP legislation has polled abysmally, while Obamacare itself has grown steadily more popular. Yet most Republicans argue that failing to deliver on their promises to pass repealand-replace legislation would be worse than passing an unpopular bill, because it would expose the GOP as unable to govern despite controlling majorities in the House, Senate and White House.
In this image from video provided by Senate Television, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks on the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday. McCain returned to Congress for the first time since being diagnosed with brain cancer.