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Senate adopts budget opening door for Obamacare repeal

By Jennifer Shutt Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON – The Senate early Thursday took a first step toward repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law by adopting a fiscal 2017 budget resolution following a seven-hour voting session.

Senators voted 51-48 to adopt the budget resolution, with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky casting the only Republican vote against it. The chamber considered 19 amendments before the final vote – and stymied each one, mostly through procedural votes.

After a mostly uneventful night of debate, the final vote was marked with some drama as Democrats stood up at their desks to explain their votes, a highly unusual move.

“Because there is no replacement, I vote no,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Others said they voted no on behalf of their constituents who they said would lose health care coverage if the law is repealed. Every Democrat was interrupted by the Republican presiding over the chamber, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who warned that speeches were not allowed during the roll call vote.

The budget resolution sets up the repeal of the health care law through the budget reconciliation process, which would occur through separate legislation.

But perhaps the key amendment of the vote-a-rama, to delay an initial deadline to write legislation to repeal the 2010 health care law, was withdrawn without a vote.

The provision from Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and other more moderate GOP senators would have pushed back the Jan. 27 deadline for four House and Senate committees to write legislation to repeal the health care law, the sole purpose of the budget resolution under consideration.

A vote on the amendment would have been a key indicator of where senators stood on a growing debate among Republicans about how quickly Congress should repeal the law, especially without a clear replacement ready to go. The fiscal 2017 budget resolution includes reconciliation instructions with the purpose of repealing the health care law with just 51 votes, avoiding a filibuster from Senate Democrats.

Corker withdrew the amendment, which would have extended the deadline to March 3, after noting that the date was not binding.

“We realize that that is not a real date, that is a placeholder. That’s the earliest they can come back,” he said. “Everyone here understands the importance of doing it right.”

The so-called vote-a-rama, expected to be a long night for lawmakers, wrapped up just after 1 a.m. Thursday. The exercise was largely a political opportunity for Democrats to put their Republican colleagues on the record about a range of health care and budget issues.

Before adoption of the budget blueprint, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the ranking member on the Budget Committee, took a final shot at the budget resolution and Republican efforts to repeal the health care law without a clear replacement.

“If they do that, up to 30 million Americans will lose their health care, with many thousands dying as a result. Because you have no health care and you can’t go to a doctor or a hospital, you die,” Sanders said. “They have no alternative proposition. They want to kill (the Affordable Care Act), but they have no idea how they’re going to bring forth a substitute proposal.”

The vote-a-rama started at about 6:20 p.m. Wednesday with a vote on an amendment from Florida Democrat Bill Nelson that would have barred the Senate from taking up legislation to repeal the closing of the coverage gap for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. Enzi raised a point of order against the amendment, and the chamber voted 47-51 against waiving the point of order, effectively rejecting the amendment. Sixty votes were needed to waive the point of order.

Most amendments were rejected through the same procedural vote. The highly political amendments divided senators nearly along party lines, meaning no amendment came close to the 60 votes needed to waive the point of order. An amendment from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., related to importing prescription drugs from Canada, was rejected 46-52 by a simple roll call vote.

At the end, the budget resolution remained unchanged.

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