WASHINGTON — A days-long debate reached a dramatic peak early Friday morning when the Senate failed to pass a bare-bones measure that would repeal key parts of the Affordable Care Act.
Three Republicans broke ranks to vote against the so-called “skinny repeal” bill, dealing a blow to a key part of the GOP agenda.
Republican leadership unveiled the eight-page Health Care Freedom Act late Thursday night, several hours before the vote. The slimmed down measure was a last-ditch effort to get the bill out of the Senate and into a conference committee with the House.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and John McCain, R-Ariz., who returned to Washington earlier in the week after he was diagnosed with brain cancer, voted with Democrats.
After the early morning vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the result was a “disappointment, indeed.”
The vote came after 20 hours of debate over three days on a House-passed proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Vermont’s senators remained firmly opposed to proposals to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act, and both voted against the bill early Friday morning.
The legislation would have repealed a mandate that requires people to obtain health insurance or face penalties. It also would have suspended a mandate that requires employers to offer health insurance. Along with other changes to the legislation, it would suspend funding for abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, for one year.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated 15 million more Americans would lose insurance under the law. It would reduce the deficit by about $178.8 billion, according to the CBO.
Throughout the week and all of Thursday, it was not clear that the majority caucus would coalesce around a proposal.
Shortly after 5 p.m. — hours before the bill was released — three key Senate Republicans called a press conference to announce that they would not vote for the skinny repeal bill without a guarantee from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan that the legislation would go to a conference committee — a process where members of both chambers come together and reach agreement on legislation.
Republicans could only afford to lose the votes of two caucus members to pass the bill with a simple majority.
One of the three senators, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters he was increasingly concerned that the House would take the skinny bill directly to the floor and send it to the president’s desk. While some may argue the legislation is better than nothing, Graham disagreed.
“The skinny bill as policy is a disaster, the skinny bill as a replacement for Obamacare is a fraud,” Graham said. “The skinny bill is a vehicle to get in conference to find a replacement, it is not a replacement in itself.”
By the end of the evening, however, Graham and one of the other senators, Ron Johnson, D-Wis., seemed appeased by assurances from Ryan and voted in favor of the proposal.
The third senator, McCain, did not.
Democrats and independents, including Vermont’s delegation, remained outspokenly opposed to the Republican proposal through the evening.
Sens. McCain/Graham/Johnson are REALLY making case for pulling plug on the Trumpcare travesty & starting fresh w reg order & bipartisanship
— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) July 27, 2017
In a statement Thursday evening, with about four hours of debate left on the clock, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., slammed Republican leadership for committing “legislative malpractice.”
“The notion that this majority would reduce themselves — and the Senate — to finding the lowest common denominator in order to move ahead with a policy of this magnitude is not only absurd, it is dangerous,” he said.
Speaking on the Senate floor in the final hours of debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said there has “never been a process as absurd as what we are seeing right here” in the country’s recent history.
He entered a plea to take the debate to the committee process.
“Let us not make a bad situation worse, and let us not make the American people even feel more contemptuous of this institution than they currently do,” Sanders said.
Single-payer proposal defeated
Earlier in the day, as the hours left for debating an Obamacare repeal bill ticked down Thursday, the political fight escalated.
While Senate Republicans had yet to coalesce around a health care proposal, one GOP member sought to test Democrats on an idea that has gained steam in some branches of the party.
Montana Republican Steve Daines proposed an amendment to create a single-payer health care system. His proposal contained language from a bill Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., put forward that would create a “Medicare For All”model.
Sanders has long championed a single-payer system, and has said repeatedly that he plans to propose a bill later this year that would create such a model.
However, on the Senate floor Thursday midday, Sanders said he would not vote for Daines’ amendment if it didn’t get support from Republicans.
In lengthy remarks before the vote, Sanders said he hoped Senate Republicans would come to support the amendment. However, he said, he suspected Daines’ amendment was “nothing more than an old political trick, trying to embarrass Democrats.”
Sanders again railed against the Republican-led effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, criticizing proposed cuts to the Medicaid program and tax breaks.
“I think this is another joke, another game, another sham as part of a horrendous overall process,” Sanders said.
However, he said this will not be his last word on the subject. Sanders still plans to put forward his much-teased single-payer proposal. An aide said the bill will be released when it is ready, possibly in September.
Ultimately, not a single senator voted in favor of the amendment. In all, 57 members, including every Republican and a handful of Democrats, voted against it. The remainder, including Sanders and Leahy, were present but did not cast a vote.