'Repeal and replace' plan's defeat spells trouble for Republicans

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016.

Yesterday's developments on the Senate floor offered plenty of drama, and the Republicans' procedural measure to begin the health care debate in earnest succeeded, but that simply opened the door to substantive work on the GOP's goal.

And last night, Republicans suffered an important defeat -- the first of several.

With Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote, Republicans moved forward on health care reform Tuesday as the Senate successfully opening debate on the issue. But just six hours later, Republicans faced their first defeat in that process, failing to pass a measure that they've been working on that would have partially repealed and replaced Obamacare.

At issue was the latest iteration of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) bill -- the Better Care Reconciliation Act (or BCRA) -- which has been in the works for over a month. The measure needed 60 votes, but failed to even get 50: as the roll call shows, the final tally was 43 to 57, with nine Republicans voting with Senate Democrats against the measure.

It wasn't, in other words, particularly close.

The Senate then broke for the night, with plans to vote this afternoon on an even-more-radical "repeal and delay" plan that would gut the Affordable Care Act and figure out what to do about it two years later. That will need 50 votes, and by all accounts, the measure will fall short.

And therein lies the point: for all of yesterday's excitement, Republicans still don't have a realistic plan to achieve their goals. GOP senators climbed to the top of the diving platform, jumped off, and hope to figure out what they're doing before they reach the water.

For much of the country, this is understandably terrifying, because there's so much uncertainty. No one can say with any confidence what Republicans will do, whether they'll have the votes to do it, and just how many Americans will suffer if they succeed.

Nevertheless, we're left with a dynamic in which GOP senators are no closer to solving the puzzle than they were a day ago, a week ago, or a month ago.