ST. GEORGE – The Senate managed to squeeze through a vote Tuesday to move forward on legislation long-promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The vote opens up debate on the proposed legislation that, for the time being, is somewhat amorphous.
The Senate ultimately voted 51-50 with the Senate’s 48 Democrats all voting against opening debate. And while 50 Republican senators voted in favor of it, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted against it. The final vote was left in the hands of Vice President Mike Pence who broke the tie.
While he was not supportive of last week’s attempt by the Senate GOP to pass a health care bill, Sen. Mike Lee voted in favor of moving the process along. He argued the last plan presented by Senate Republicans did not go far enough in repealing the ACA, also commonly called “Obamacare.”
Lee’s lack of support, as well as potential “no” votes being threatened by other GOP senators, sank that version of proposed legislation.
According to the Deseret News, Lee is expected to offer an amendment to a new bill to be crafted by the Senate. While still being written, the goal of the amendment is to limit the scope of the health care plan “in the hopes of providing the most relief possible for Utah families,” Conn Carroll, Lee’s communications director, said.
Prior to the Senate’s vote Lee said, “I hope my colleagues will honor their promise and vote with me for the 2015 repeal bill.”
In contrast to Lee, Sen. Orrin Hatch has been supportive of recent efforts to replace the ACA but has also stressed the need for communication and compromise.
Following the day’s vote, he issued the following statement:
Today’s vote was a critical first step in the process of fixing our broken healthcare system. Under the rules we’ll have an open amendment process, members will get a chance to have their preferences known and to have the Senate vote on them. I’m pleased so many of my Republican colleagues came together to keep our promise to the American people and I look forward to a robust debate with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
Making a return to the Senate to vote was Sen. John McCain, 80, who was recently diagnosed with a brain cancer.
“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. “They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.”
Though he voted in favor of the motion to proceed, McCain said he would not vote on the bill as it is now.
“It’s a shell of a bill right now,” he said. “We all know that.”
Indeed senators had no clear idea of what they would ultimately be voting on, and in an indication of the uncertainty ahead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said the Senate will “let the voting take us where it will.”
The expectation is that McConnell will bring up a series of amendments, including a straight-up repeal and fuller replacement legislation, to see where consensus may lie.
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.
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 Sen. John McCain — very brave man.”
Associated Press reporter Erica Werner, Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Mary Clare Jalonick and Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.
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