WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate took a first step toward dismantling the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and defunding Planned Parenthood, and now the ball is in President Obama’s court.
But the president has already stated his intention: he will veto the bill.
The “Restoring America’s Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act” or less formally the “Obamacare repeal bill,” passed 52-47, with Sen. Susan Collins (R- Maine) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R- Ill.) joining the Democrat opposition.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (D- Vermont) was absent for the vote.
The new bill would dismantle the individual mandate, as well as the employer mandate — an unpopular provision that requires mid-size businesses to provide health insurance for workers.
Other major provisions of the bill include:
- Reversing Medicaid expansion after a 2-year transition period.
- Repealing certain tax increases including taxes on medical devices and prescription drugs
- Preventing federal funds from reaching Planned Parenthood for 1 year.
- Take new monies from repeal and invest them in Medicare Trust Fund.
An amendment sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nevada) to repeal the “Cadillac tax”, a levy on expensive insurance plans slated to begin in 2018, also passed in a vote of 90-10.
But an amendment from Sen. Collins and Kirk and Sen. Barbara Murkowski (R- Alaska) to remove language targeting investments in Planned Parenthood failed.
President Obama will undoubtedly veto any bill that would hurt his signature law or restrict women’s reproductive rights. Nonetheless, Republican Senators are basking in the victory of the moment because it is the first time a repeal measure on Obamacare has passed the Senate.
And, the gesture, veto or no, is still meaningful for anti-Obamacare conservatives because it gives them a chance to flex their political muscle, put their aversion for the President’s health reform bill in writing and fulfill a promise to their constituents on the eve of an election year.
Before the vote began, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the majority leader, seemed to be suppressing a grin. “A new Senate that’s back on the side of the American people will vote to move beyond all of the broken promises, all the higher costs and all the failures,” he said.
“We will vote to build a bridge away from Obamacare and toward better care.”
Then Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) spoke, citing the millions of Americans who now have health insurance.
“I am ready, and I know our colleagues on this side are, to work with anyone who has good ideas about how we can continue making healthcare more affordable, and expanding coverage and improving quality of care, but the legislation we have spent the last few days debating, which has no chance of becoming law, will do the exact opposite.”
She continued, “I hope, once this bill reaches the dead-end it has always been headed for, Republicans will drop the politics and work with us to deliver results for the families and communities we serve.”
Under budget reconciliation, a special process that pertains only to revenue-related programs, and can’t be filibustered — it requires only 51 votes, instead of 61 to pass. It also allows unlimited amendments and 20 hours of negotiation.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D- Mass.) , responded to the conservative attack on Planned Parenthood, which was exacerbated in recent months by reports that centers used fetal tissue for research. She stressed that no federal funds are currently being spent on abortion, under the Hyde Amendment, calling the bill “a reckless scheme.”
“This isn’t a game for the millions of women who depend on Planned Parenthood for basic medical care every year and have nowhere else to go.”
Sen. Harry Reid (D- Nevada) who defended the Affordable Care Act earlier on Thursday, also argued against repeal, and against the conservative view that constituents are hammering to see Obamacare killed. He listed states whose Republican governors “displayed courage” by expanding Medicaid despite criticism from their own Republican senators .
“If Obamacare is so awful why are Republicans in Kentucky, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, New Hampshire eager to use it? Simple. The Affordable Care Act expands coverage and cuts costs. It’s good for the states.” It should be noted that Kentucky expanded Medicaid when Steve Beshear,a Democrat, was governor. The current governor, Republican Matt Bevin, is planning to roll back that expansion.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R- Alaska) disagreed.
“Probably no other state in the country has been more negatively damaged by Obamacare than Alaska,” he said. Of the five insurers who initially offered healthcare plans on the exchanges only two are left, he said and both will raise premiums by about 40% this year.
Sullivan said many Alaskans chose to stomach the penalty for not complying with the individual mandate, rather than paying for health insurance “that’ s been forced on them by the federal government and that they cant afford.”
He also found it “a bit ironic” that Democrats were complaining about a predictably partisan vote on the repeal, noting that Obamacare originally passed through the House and Senate on party lines 6 years ago. “To hear their concerns now rings a little hollow.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) decried the “unfunded mandate on Medicaid” in a press statement Thursday, he wrote, “When I was governor, Medicaid only made up about 8 percent of Tennessee’s state budget. By last year, it was 30.6 percent. States paying more and more to expand Medicaid means less to spend on other priorities like higher education, roads, and law enforcement.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D- Calif.) said on Wednesday she thinks that Republicans secretly want the bill to fail. “They have nothing, nothing, to replace it with. It’s kind of a joke.”
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), who also spoke on the floor Wednesday said, “The promise of lower cost healthcare and better benefits was exactly wrong. What the American people were promised is wrong… It’s time the American people got the truth, better coverage, lower costs and do it the old fashioned way with a private competitive system.”
McConnell said Thursday, the House would have a chance to vote again on the amended bill, and then, he continued, “President Obama will have a choice. He can defend the status quo that’s failed the middle class by vetoing the bill or he can work toward a new beginning and better care by signing it.”