The Senate rejected a simple repeal of Obamacare on Wednesday, still in the early stages of an unpredictable floor debate on health care amid significant doubts that Republicans can muster the 50 votes needed to pass any kind of bill.
GOP leaders are holding votes on a slew of different health proposals this week to see how close they can get to passing something. The amendment defeated 45-55 Wednesday was similar to the Affordable Care Act repeal that passed Congress in 2015 and was vetoed by then-President Barack Obama.
“It’s really the only piece of legislation” that can force Republicans and Democrats to sit down and work on a compromise, GOP Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who backed the simple repeal, told reporters before the vote.
This week’s debate on amendments — which will be punctuated with skirmishes over obscure rules and parliamentary challenges — will culminate in an all-night “vote-a-rama” later this week that could feature dozens, or even hundreds, of amendment votes.
At the end of it, Republican leaders hope to be able to pass a health measure, even if it’s just a slimmed-down Obamacare repeal that only scraps a handful of the law’s most unpopular provisions.
Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican, said GOP leaders are exploring a scaled-back repeal plan that can pass and be sent to conference negotiations with the House, which has a broad bill. That could open doors to restoring Senate provisions that can’t pass this time, he said.
“To me, that seems to have a lot of benefits,” Cornyn told reporters Wednesday. “All we’re looking at is a way to get to that conference quick so we can begin to have those discussions and get a result.”
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina said there was “zero” chance the House would go for a “skinny” repeal of Obamacare, should the Senate pass it first.
Senate Democrats are vowing to try to stop a health-care measure, and called on outside groups to help pressure wary Republicans. “We are going to fight and fight and fight until this bill is dead,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said at a rally outside the Capitol Tuesday.
Seven Republicans voted with Democrats against the Obamacare repeal: Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Dean Heller of Nevada, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, John McCain of Arizona, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Rob Portman of Ohio.
“I don’t think Tennesseans would be comfortable canceling insurance for 22 million Americans, and trusting Congress to find a replacement in two years,” Alexander said in a statement. “Pilots like to know where they’re going to land when they take off, and we should too.”
Collins and Murkowski voted against beginning debate on Tuesday, and opposition from a single additional senator would block final passage of any health bill.
Murkowski “really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!” President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.
Republicans are using a fast-track Senate procedure known as reconciliation that can avoid a filibuster by Democrats and allow a final measure to pass with as few as 50 votes. But there are strict rules that mean a host of provisions Republicans are seeking could be successfully challenged by Democrats, based on early guidance from the Senate parliamentarian.