The US Senate is about to undertake a long evening session of votes in the first step towards a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare.
The Senate will vote on well over 100 amendments to a budgetary resolution in what is called a “vote-a-rama.”
The budget resolution and subsequent amendments being considered tonight, in essence, will direct the Senate and House to come up with a piece of legislation that would allow Senate Republicans to repeal any aspect of the ACA that relates to the federal budget.
Republicans have chosen to use this route since a typical bill is subject to a filibuster, that can only be broken by a 60 person vote to end it. Republicans only hold 52 Senate seats. On the other hand, the budget process starting Wednesday needs only a simple majority of 51 senators to pass amendments that directly involve taxes and spending.
So, the aspects of the health law that can be addressed by these votes include funding for subsidies that allow people in the law’s exchanges to pay for their insurance, Medicaid expansion funding, and more.
The “vote-a-rama” part comes in since any number of amendments can be attached to a budget resolution like the one being considered. Wednesday’s amendments do not have any power of law, but they force a series of symbolic votes that will go well into the night.
Thus, with some political posturing and parliamentary procedure, the wheels of Obamacare repeal will be set in motion.
The ACA repeal has become one of the top priorities for the Republican-led government since the election of President-elect Donald Trump.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence and President Barack Obama met with Congressional members of their respective parties last week to strategize.
In recent days, it appears that the GOP has begun to fracture on their approach to repeal, with particular disagreements about the replacement of the ACA.
Many GOP lawmakers have said that they do not want to cause a lapse in coverage for the over 20 million Americans that have gained insurance through Obamacare. In order to do this, GOP members have proposed waiting on a repeal until a full replacement health care law has been created.
House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters on Tuesday that he wants a repeal and replace to happen “concurrently,” while other GOP members have also pushed for repeal and replace at the same time. However, if the original process of writing and passing the ACA is any indication, crafting a replacement law could take a while.
Even Trump said in his press conference on Wednesday that he wants to go ahead with a repeal and replace as soon as his nominee for the Department of Health and Human Services Tom Price is confirmed.
“We’re going to be submitting, as soon as he is approved, we’ll almost simultaneously – shortly thereafter – have a plan,” said Trump. “It will be repeal and replace. It will be simultaneously.”
Price’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for January 18.
Democrats have pledged to fight the repeal, citing the positive aspects of the law including the expanded coverage and the inability for insurers to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions (both of which are incredibly popular). In terms of the votes tonight, Democrats have little power to stop the budget votes but have been waging a press relations fight against the repeal.