Senate passes first stage of Obamacare repeal

1/12/17 1:30 AM

The Republican-controlled Senate overcame doubts in its own caucus to approve a budget resolution that will start the process of repealing Obamacare.

The Senate early Thursday morning passed a budget resolution, with 51 yays and 48 nays, that calls for legislation to repeal the controversial healthcare law. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was not present.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was the only Republican to vote against the resolution. He previously opposed the resolution, saying that it creates a $9.7 trillion hole in the deficit over the next decade.

The vote came after a marathon series of votes on amendments mostly introduced by Democrats seeking to preserve parts of Obamacare. The non-binding resolution now goes to the House, which is expected to take it up on Friday.Stay abreast of the latest developments from nation's capital and beyond with curated News Alerts from the Washington Examiner news desk and delivered to your inbox.

Republicans said the resolution is necessary to start the process of repealing the law.

"This resolution will set the stage for true relief from Obamacare that Americans have long demanded," said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

Democrats charged that Republicans are seeking to repeal the law without a replacement.

"This is not what the American people want," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. "This is irresponsible, this is dangerous."

The vote got contentious when each Democrat stood up to record their votes and offered a reason for voting against the resolution. The move was a break from normal protocols for a roll call vote, where usually a senator just says "yea" or "nay" when called on.

"Because there is no replace, I vote no," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., before being gaveled down by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who was presiding over the Senate at the time.

"Debate is not allowed during a vote," Gardner said. This exchange went on between Gardner and many other Democrats who gave their reasons for voting no on the resolution.

The House is expected to pass it by a comfortable margin on Friday. Afterwards, committees in both the House and Senate will get to work on writing the legislation that will actually repeal major parts of Obamacare under a process known as reconciliation.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Finance Committee are tasked with creating repeal legislation by Jan. 27. The panels on the House side — Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means — also have until Jan. 27 to create repeal legislation.

By using reconciliation, the Senate can pass repeal legislation by a simple 51-vote majority, instead of gathering the usual 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

However, reconciliation can only be applied to legislation that impacts spending levels. Therefore, any repeal legislation is unlikely to completely repeal Obamacare.

The House and Senate voted back in 2015 a bill that gutted the law's taxes and mandates but left intact the law's insurer regulations for the individual market, which is for people who don't get insurance through work. President Obama vetoed that bill, but lawmakers now are hoping that Trump will sign it into law.

However, there is a growing debate in the GOP over how to go about repeal.

More than five GOP senators have expressed doubts about repealing the law with no replacement ready to go, since doing so would create uncertainty for insurance markets. Republicans have aimed to shore up support by easing those fears.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the second-ranking lawmaker, told reporters recently that the incoming Trump administration would be able to help stabilize individual marketplaces, which only make up 6 percent of the overall insurance market. Employer-sponsored insurance makes up the majority.

However, Trump said during a press conference Wednesday that he wants repeal and replace to happen "essentially simultaneously."

"It will be various segments but will be on the same day or the same week [as repeal]," he said. "It could be the same hour."

Before the vote on the resolution, senators spent more than seven hours voting down 19 amendments to the bill. Many of them were from Democrats who aimed to preserve parts of Obamacare.