Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks from the chamber as Republicans pushed legislation toward Senate approval to defund Planned Parenthood and the ACA, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 3, 2015.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Senate Republicans overcome hurdle, advance ACA repeal crusade

It wasn’t easy, and it took quite a bit more drama than anyone expected to see, but Senate Republicans took their first meaningful step this afternoon toward taking health care benefits from millions of Americans.

With Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote, Republicans moved forward on health care reform Tuesday as the Senate successfully passed a key motion to proceed to debate on repealing and possibly replacing Obamacare.

Momentum built over the course of the day as several previously skeptical members announced they would support Senate GOP leaders after they began detailing plans for more votes over the next days to shape the details of the legislation.

It’s important to understand what did and did not happen today. Senate Republicans did not, for example, repeal the Affordable Care Act, in whole or in part. Today’s 51-50 vote was a procedural step, not a vote on the substance of any health care legislation.

If even one additional GOP senator either missed the vote or voted “no,” the Republicans’ repeal crusade would have effectively ended today. But with two GOP senators – Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski – voting “no” instead of three, it means the process can and will move forward.

Perhaps the most striking vote was cast by West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito‏ (R), who assured voters just last week, “I will only vote to proceed to repeal legislation if I am confident there is a replacement plan that addresses my concerns.” She appears to have broken her word: there is no replacement plan that addresses her concerns, but Capito voted the way her party told her to on the motion to proceed anyway.

Indeed, Capito, like every other senator, still has no idea what health care reform policy they’re moving towards. There is no bill; there is no Congressional Budget Office analysis; there have been no legislative hearings; there has been no scrutiny of the final plan because the plan does not currently exist.

And yet, 50 Republican senators and the far-right vice president voted to move forward toward their amorphous finish line anyway.

So, what now? At this point, the Senate will begin considering a series of amendments, which if approved, would replace the text of the House bill. First up will be a full ACA repeal, which is expected to fail. Then comes a vote on the latest iteration of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) blueprint, which also doesn’t appear to have the votes to pass.

There’s also been quite a bit of conversation this morning about a “skinny repeal” measure – removing the mandates and some taxes from the ACA, but leaving the rest intact – which GOP leaders think might be able to get 50 votes. From there, Senate Republicans reportedly hope to go to a conference committee with House Republicans, reconciling the different bills into one final package.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. GOP leaders managed to find 50 votes to begin a debate. For American families who rely on the health care system, that’s understandably terrifying – the repeal crusade could’ve died today, but it didn’t – though Republicans are still not close to approving their own “Obamacare” alternative.

The entire Senate process will unfold quickly this week. Buckle up.