The discussion over health care proposals began Tuesday afternoon, when Senate Republicans secured a narrow victory on a procedural vote that allowed 20 hours of debate to begin.
The Senate is moving forward with a bill that passed the House earlier this year. However, the House-passed proposal is not popular in the Senate, and Republican leadership is seeking to use the bill as a vehicle for their own proposals.
Vermont’s two senators and other members of the Democratic caucus have remained staunch in their opposition to every proposal brought forward so far.
Seven Republicans joined Democrats to defeat the latest plan on Wednesday.
The Congressional Budget Office says the repeal proposals could knock 15 million to 20 million off insurance rolls. The New York Times has reported that premiums could go up 20 percent as a result of the reforms proposed by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.
In a sarcastic question-and-answer exchange on the Senate floor, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., asked Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden about the Republican-led repeal proposals.
“Would my friend from Oregon tell me, how many hearings have been held on the finance committee to discuss the economic implications of this legislation?” Sanders asked. “Were there five, 10? How many hearings on this enormously complicated and important issue?”
“My colleague is being logical and heaven forbid that that should be introduced into this, because we would automatically assume that on a matter like this — we are talking about a sixth of the American economy — the Senate Finance Committee would have hearings,” Wyden responded. “There have been no hearings.”
The senators went back and forth on GOP proposals that go well beyond repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have tacked on significant reductions in Medicaid spending and an increase tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
In a series of posts on Twitter, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., vowed to prevent cuts to Medicaid.
— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) July 26, 2017
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are struggling to secure support in the 52-member caucus to amend the House bill.
Late Tuesday night, the chamber voted down an amendment that featured a modified version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Nine Republicans broke ranks to oppose the proposal, in a 43 to 57 vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was the architect of the measure.
When the Senate convened Wednesday morning, there were still 17 hours of debate to go. In the mid-afternoon senators voted down an amendment based on a 2015 bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act that would have left a two-year window for implementation.
The Senate also defeated a Democratic motion to send the bill to committee.
As debate stretched into the evening, expected to resume Thursday, many involved in health care in Vermont were keeping abreast of the developments.
Mary Kate Mohlman, the director of health care reform for the Scott administration, said she is keeping an eye on how the proposals could impact the flexibility Vermont has with federal Medicaid dollars. Vermont has what is called a “global commitment” waiver that allows the state to use the money for a variety of programs beyond health care for low-income residents.
“We would like to see slow down, let’s return to a bipartisan, open approach,” Mohlman said, referring to a letter Gov. Phil Scott penned with a bipartisan group of other governors last week.
Susan Barrett, executive director of the Green Mountain Care Board, said the regulatory agency was tracking the machinations in Washington this week, but carrying on with business as usual.
“When we know what comes out of the federal government, we’re going to have to react,” she said. “But up until then, like everybody else, we’re in limbo.”