Se­nate’s 51-48 vote sets re­peal of health-care act in mo­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON — Se­nate Repub­li­cans took their first ma­jor step to­ward re­peal­ing the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act on Thurs­day, ap­prov­ing a bud­get blue­print that would al­low them to gut the health care law with­out the threat of a Demo­cratic fil­i­buster.

The vote was 51-48. Dur­ing the roll call, Democrats staged a protest on the Se­nate floor to ex­press their dis­may at the prospect that mil­lions of Amer­i­cans could lose health in­sur­ance cov­er­age.

One by one, Democrats rose to voice their ob­jec­tions. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Wash­ing­ton said Repub­li­cans were “steal­ing health care from Amer­i­cans.” Sen. Ron Wy­den of Ore­gon said he was vot­ing no “be­cause health care should not just be for the healthy and wealthy.”

The pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer, Sen. Cory Gard­ner, R-Colo., re­peat­edly banged his gavel and said the Democrats were out of or­der be­cause “de­bate is not al­lowed dur­ing a vote.”

The fi­nal vote, which ended just be­fore 1:30 a.m. in Wash­ing­ton, fol­lowed a marathon ses­sion in which sen­a­tors took back-to-back roll call votes on nu­mer­ous amend­ments, an ar­du­ous ex­er­cise known as a vote-arama.

The approval of the bud­get blue­print, com­ing be­fore Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump is in­au­gu­rated, shows the speed with which Repub­li­can lead­ers are mov­ing to ful­fill their prom­ise to re­peal Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sig­na­ture do­mes­tic pol­icy achieve­ment — a goal they be­lieve can now be ac­com­plished af­ter Trump’s elec­tion.

The ac­tion by the Se­nate is essen­tially pro­ce­dural, set­ting the stage for a spe­cial kind of leg­is­la­tion called a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion bill. Such a bill can be used to re­peal sig­nif­i­cant parts of the health law and is im­mune from be­ing fil­i­bus­tered. Congress ap­pears to be at least weeks away from vot­ing on leg­is­la­tion re­peal­ing the law.

Trump took to Twit­ter to praise the de­vel­op­ment: “Con­grats to the Se­nate for tak­ing the first step to #Re­pealOba­macare — now it’s onto the House!”

The Af­ford­able Care Act is of­ten called “Oba­macare” by both sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of the law.

Repub­li­cans say the 2016 elec­tions gave them a man­date to roll back the health care law. “The Oba­macare bridge is col­laps­ing, and we’re send­ing in a res­cue team,” said Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., and the chair­man of the Se­nate Bud­get Com­mit­tee. “Then we’ll build new bridges to bet­ter health care, and fi­nally, when these new bridges are fin­ished, we’ll close the old bridge.”

Repub­li­can lead­ers say they will work closely with Trump to de­velop leg­is­la­tion to re­peal and re­place the health care law, but it is un­clear ex­actly how his team will par­tic­i­pate in that ef­fort.

On Wed­nes­day, Trump said he would of­fer his own plan to re­peal and re­place the law “essen­tially si­mul­ta­ne­ously.” He said he would put forth the plan as soon as his nom­i­nee for sec­re­tary of health and hu­man ser­vices, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., is con­firmed.

More than 20 mil­lion peo­ple have gained cov­er­age un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act, though pre­mi­ums have risen sharply in many states, and some in­sur­ers have fled the law’s health ex­changes.

The bud­get blue­print in­structs House and Se­nate com­mit­tees to come up with re­peal leg­is­la­tion by Jan. 27.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and four other Repub­li­cans had sought to ex­tend that dead­line by five weeks, to March 3. But late Wed­nes­day, Corker with­drew an amend­ment that would have changed the date.

“We un­der­stand that every­one here un­der­stands the im­por­tance of do­ing it right,” he said. He de­scribed the Jan. 27 date in the bud­get blue­print as a place-holder.

Sen. Rob Port­man of Ohio, another Repub­li­can who sought to de­lay the dead­line, said, “This date is not a date that is set in stone. In fact, it is the ear­li­est we could do it. But it could take longer, and we be­lieve that it might.”

The House was plan­ning to take up the bud­get blue­print once the Se­nate ap­proved it, though some House Repub­li­cans have ex­pressed dis­com­fort with vot­ing on the blue­print this week be­cause of lin­ger­ing ques­tions over how and when the health care law would be re­placed.

A vote on the mea­sure in the House could come to­day.

“We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to step in and pro­vide re­lief from this fail­ing law,” Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told re­porters Thurs­day. “And we have to do it all at the same time so that ev­ery­body sees what we’re try­ing to do.”

In its lengthy se­ries of votes, the Se­nate re­jected amend­ments pro­posed by Democrats that were in­tended to al­low im­ports of prescription drugs from Canada, pro­tect ru­ral hos­pi­tals and en­sure con­tin­ued ac­cess to cov­er­age for peo­ple with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions, among other causes.

In the par­lance of Capi­tol Hill, many of the Democrats’ pro­pos­als were “mes­sag­ing amend­ments,” in­tended to put Repub­li­cans on record as op­pos­ing pop­u­lar pro­vi­sions of the Af­ford­able Care Act. The bud­get blue­print is for the guid­ance of Congress; it is not pre­sented to the pres­i­dent for a sig­na­ture or veto and does not be­come law.

Repub­li­cans do not have an agree­ment among them­selves on the con­tent of leg­is­la­tion to re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act, the timetable for votes on such leg­is­la­tion or its ef­fec­tive date.

Sen. Su­san Collins, R- Maine, said Wed­nes­day that she agreed with Trump that Congress should re­peal the health law and adopt a re­place­ment plan at about the same time.

“But I don’t see any pos­si­bil­ity of our be­ing able to come up with a com­pre­hen­sive re­form bill that would re­place Oba­macare by the end of this month,” she said. “I just don’t see that as be­ing fea­si­ble.”

Collins also sup­ported push­ing back the dead­line to come up with re­peal leg­is­la­tion.

As Repub­li­cans pur­sue re­peal­ing the law, Democrats con­tend that Repub­li­cans are try­ing to rip in­sur­ance away from mil­lions of Amer­i­cans with no idea of what to do next.

The Se­nate Demo­cratic leader, Charles Schumer of New York, called the Repub­li­cans’ re­peal plan “ir­re­spon­si­ble and rushed” and urged them to halt their push to un­ravel the law.

“Don’t put chaos in place of af­ford­able care,” he said.

Separately, Sen. Bernie San­ders, I-Vt., whose Demo­cratic run for White House last year struck a chord with young peo­ple and the party’s pro­gres­sive wing, has teamed up with top Demo­cratic lead­ers to or­ga­nize about 50 ral­lies this week­end to trum­pet sup­port for the law.

“A good, strong po­lit­i­cal party needs ob­vi­ously an in­side- the- Belt­way strat­egy, but it also needs an out­side-the-Belt­way strat­egy,” San­ders said. “There are very few peo­ple who will tell you that the Democrats have done a good job in terms of an out­side strat­egy, in terms of stand­ing up with work­ing fam­i­lies and the mid­dle class and lower-in­come peo­ple.”

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Thomas Ka­plan and Robert Pear of The New York Times and by Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press.

The New York Times/AL DRAGO

Piz­zas or­dered by Se­nate Democrats ar­rive at the U.S. Capi­tol on Wed­nes­day evening dur­ing a se­ries of af­ter-hours votes that stretched into Thurs­day morn­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.