(Business Insider) The Senate narrowly voted Tuesday to open debate on the Republican health care overhaul on Tuesday, kicking off a furious voting process after tumultuous arguments among the GOP.
A procedural vote to begin debate on the House’s health care bill passed, 51-50, as Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote. It came amid the dramatic return of Sen. John McCain, who cast a crucial vote in favor of the legislation a week after announcing he had brain cancer.
Even with the crucial step, it is unclear if Republicans will have the votes to eventually repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the law referred to by many as Obamacare.
Every Democrat voted against the motion Tuesday, with Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski defecting from GOP leadership by voting no. Leadership could not have afforded another GOP defection.
Several Republican members who were on the fence regarding the motion decided to vote for the measure after significant pressure from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the White House. Sen. Ron Johnson came to the floor and talked privately with McConnell before finally casting a “yes” vote Tuesday.
The Senate will now begin 20 hours of debate on the healthcare bill, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., returns to the U.S. Senate accompanied by his wife, Cindy, on July 25, 2017, in Washington. (Photo:Win McNamee/Getty Images)
To get enough Republican senators onboard with the motion to proceed, McConnell likely promised to bring up multiple versions of amendments for a vote, including the repeal-only Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act (ORRA) and the repeal-and-replace Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA).
GOP members say McConnell is likely assuming both of those measures will fail and then begin a “skinny repeal” process — a series of amendments that would repeal certain parts of Obamacare.
If those are able to pass in the shell of the House bill, Republicans from both sides of Congress would come together on a conference committee to draft a compromise.
President Donald Trump applauded the passage of the motion in a statement.
“I applaud the Senate for taking a giant step to end the Obamacare nightmare,” Trump said. “As this vote shows, inaction is not an option, and now the legislative process can move forward as intended to produce a bill that lowers costs and increases options for all Americans. The Senate must now pass a bill and get it to my desk so we can finally end the Obamacare disaster once and for all.”
Here’s a rundown of what will happen from here:
20 hours of debate — in legislative time — will begin, split equally between Democrats and Republicans.
The first amendment to be voted on is likely to be the ORRA to satisfy conservative hold-out Rand Paul and other conservatives. This plan is likely to be shot down by moderates.
The first amendment to be offered procedurally — but the second to be voted on, the news website Axios reported — would be the BCRA, which was last updated on Thursday. Again, Republicans can afford only two defections.
According to reports, there is an agreement between Sen. Rob Portman, a more moderate holdout, and Sen. Ted Cruz, a conservative, on an amendment that would keep the structure of the BCRA but allow insurers to sell non-Obamacare-compliant policies and throw in $100 billion to the state stabilization fund. But since that would require 60 votes to pass, and it has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, it is almost certainly doomed, since there are only 52 Republicans in the Senate.
There could then be a series of amendments to the House bill, including those from Democrats. Additionally, other health care legislation could be slotted in for a vote.
Finally, McConnell will try to push the Senate to pass a bundle of smaller amendments focused on repealing aspects of Obamacare like the individual mandate and medical-device tax. After this, the House and the Senate would flesh out a full replacement bill in a conference committee.
By LeNora Millen 07-25-17