Senate defeats Obamacare repeal

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., say they will not vote for the “skinny repeal” bill without a guarantee of a conference committee. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

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The legislation would have repealed a mandate that requires people to obtain health insurance or face penalties.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.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., walks through Congress this week. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

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.

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.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks about health care on the Senate floor Thursday. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

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.

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  • Dominic Cotignola

    Pretty amazing that a brain tumor, knowing your not going to be around for your next re-election, and your going to have to pay a significant portion of your savings on medical bills, makes you do the right thing.

    • Edward Letourneau

      He voted against it because it didn’t go far enough in the cuts.

      • Jeff Noordsy

        That’s actually inaccurate. Although Senator McCain is not opposed to dismantling the ACA his vote was predicated upon his belief that the process employed by Republican leadership was “deeply flawed.”

    • Neil Johnson

      Ironically none of them are subject to our health care. They have their own special healthcare.

      The American people are once again being played by both sides. Not doing anything allow the following to continue: Monopolies in healthcare are totally protected. 61 year old people are subsidizing health care costs for those in the 21-26 year old age bracket, drug pricing and manipulation can continue unfettered due to the protected monopoly, our health care costs will continue to sky rocket, unbeknownst to many as they are getting taxes from many, many other sources. You will not have any choice in healthcare.

      • JohnGreenberg

        “Under the Affordable Care Act, members of the U.S. House of
        Representatives, the Senate and their office staffs who want employer coverage generally have to buy it on the health insurance exchange.
        Before the ACA passed in 2010, they were eligible to be covered under
        the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. (People working for
        congressional committees who are not on a member’s office staff may
        still be covered under FEHBP.)

        The members of Congress and their staffs choose from among 57 gold plans from four insurers sold on the DC Health Link’s small business
        marketplace this year.”


  • Pete Novick

    “He insulted me, and he insulted everyone in that room… He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured… perhaps he was a war hero, but right now he’s said a lot of very bad things about a lot of people.”

    – Donald J. Trump, referring to Senator John McCain, in remarks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, July 18, 2015

    As we used to say in the Navy, what goes around, comes around. Now ain’t that the plain truth.

    “The night John McCain killed the GOP’s health-care fight”


    • Deborah Billado

      Too bad he acted out of spite and not the national interest.

  • Elise Eaton

    Here is my plan: All elected officials will have the exact same health care choices, or lack thereof, as the We The People. Putting the entire nation on what ostensibly is welfare to be administered by the government? No thanks.

  • rosemariejackowski

    We need Single Payer because we don’t have enough money for any other system. Single Payer costs less, and it also saves lives. It also must include dental, vision, and long term care.

    • Steve Baker

      How do you know it costs less?
      The VA is a single payer system, how’s that working!

      • Jerry Kilcourse

        Medicare is mostly a single payer system which I have, and is extremely popular. Developed countries that have single payer spend about half of GDP than us and all have have universal coverage.

        • Steve Baker

          Other “developed countries” developed very little in the way of health innovation.

          • Robert Lehmert

            Another misleading throw-away comment. Do you really think the rest of the world revolves around the US? Harass and close the borders to qualified people and create an malignant environment so the rest of the world thinks we’ve come off the rails, and enjoy the consequences of stagnation and decay.

          • Steve Baker

            The border should be open for “qualified people”
            A quick read of history would indicate Democrats have consistently shot down the visa program for qualified workers
            And heaven knows the Liberals monopoly on public schools certainly isn’t doing a great job of pumping out qualified workers

          • David Bell

            This statement is false, why does the anti-government movement keep making things up?

          • Steve Baker

            Being intimately involved with one of the greatest hospitals in the United States, I can tell you with confidence there’s no one standing in line at foreign hospitals like they are US hospitals.
            I just read the story about people going to Canada and Germany for specialize procedures…… Not!
            The Kuwaitis and Saudis go where for healthcare? France, Belgium, Brazil, England ? Hardy

          • robert bristow-johnson

            Still doesn’t work well for most Americans.

            It’s only the rich from those other countries that “stand in line” at U.S. hospitals. I’ve met many people from other industrialized countries and not one of them would trade their system for ours.

          • David Bell


            I have no idea what you did for what hospital, but unless it involved specifically comparing overall medical tourism metrics it proves absolutely nothing.

            While you may be confident the US is the medical tourism capital of the world, the evidence does not support this.


            Take a quick look at Germany specifically, as it is a major medical tourist hub people around the world go to for specialized procedures.

  • Pete Novick

    There are some huge errors – assumptions in place of facts- regarding Senator McCain’s health care plans. As a retired Navy officer, like McCain is, and as a person over 65 and under Medicare Part A an Part B, like McCain is, let me set you straight.

    Senator McCain has Medicare.

    As a Navy officer, McCain paid the payroll tax, (currently 7.65%; 6.2% to Social Security; 1.45% to Medicare) and established more than 40 quarters of full-time employment paying into the system.

    As a retired Navy officer. McCain and his wife have Tricare for Life, as they are both over 65.

    Tricare for Life is a medical benefit program, sometimes referred to as Medicare wrap-around coverage, for Tricare beneficiaries who have Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B regardless of age or place of residence. People, who are Tricare eligible according to the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS), and who have purchased Medicare Part B, are automatically enrolled and become eligible for TFL.

    TFL is not an insurance program. Instead, it is a benefit program offered to active duty and retired military personnel and family members who meet eligibility criteria. There are no premiums for the coverage. For covered care – and most services are covered – there are no co-pays.

    Between Medicare and Tricare for Life, the McCains have virtually free health care. Like every person who puts on the inform and sticks around for 20+ years – McCain earned it.

    So, if you need to make a catty remark about Senator McCain’s health care, please be my guest. But only do so if you have your facts straight.


  • Tory Rhodin

    By definition, unions are made up of the working class.

    • Peter Chick

      A higher wage and better insurance than most “working class”. Why should they get a pass on the ACA? Because they donate large sums of money to their favorite politicians. That is why.