January 13, 2017

Senate Takes First Step at Dismantling Obamacare

After a marathon session of votes lasting seven hours, the Republican-controlled Senate passed a budget resolution Jan. 11 that sets in motion the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly called Obamacare.

The budget, which is expected to be taken up by the House today (Jan. 13), does not have the force of law, but contains a powerful procedural tool known as reconciliation. The reconciliation instructions contained in the budget resolution will allow Republicans to dismantle the health law with simple majorities in the House and Senate. The Senate’s adoption of the budget is the first step in that process.

Though the final outcome of the vote was never really in doubt, the lengthy debate on the budget resolution, known on Capitol Hill as a “vote-a-rama”, was used by minority party Democrats as a potent political weapon to force tough votes from the majority party. For instance, Democrats offered multiple amendments to curb the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs. These amendments were designed to highlight the difference in policy positions between Senate Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump who slammed the pharmaceutical industry as “getting away with murder” in response to a question at his press conference a few hours before the Senate considered the measures.

Democrats also forced Republicans to balk at supporting popular provisions in the health law. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) offered an amendment to prevent discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, and Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) tried to block “legislation that makes women sick again” by stripping women’s health care services covered under Obamacare. All amendments proposed by the Democrats were ultimately defeated. The budget resolution now goes to the House where passage is expected today.

Lawmakers will then begin the difficult task of drafting the actual legislation to repeal many parts of the ACA. The resolution calls for committees to finish their work by Jan. 27, but many Congressional observers believe this date is simply a “placeholder,” with adoption more realistically happening in mid- to late February.