Pence Breaks Tie as Senate Votes to Begin Debating Obamacare Repeal

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    Pence Breaks Tie as Senate Votes to Begin Debating Obamacare Repeal

    WASHINGTON — The Senate narrowly voted on Tuesday to begin debate on a bill to repeal major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, taking a pivotal step forward after the dramatic return of Senator John McCain, who cast a crucial vote despite his diagnosis of brain cancer.

    Vice President Mike Pence cast the tiebreaking vote.

    The 51-50 vote came only a week after the Republican effort to dismantle a pillar of former President Barack Obama’s legacy appeared all but doomed. It marked an initial win for President Trump, who pushed, cajoled and threatened senators over the last days to at least begin debating the repeal of the health care law.

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    “Now we move forward toward truly great health care for the American people,” Mr. Trump said from the White House Rose Garden, where he was holding a news conference with the visiting president of Lebanon. “This was a big step.”

    But even with that successful step, it is unclear whether Republicans will have the votes they need to uproot the law that has provided health insurance to millions of Americans. The Senate will now move ahead with debate, amendments and ultimately a final vote in the coming days on legislation that would have a profound impact on the American health care system — nearly 18 percent of the economy.

    Only two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against the motion, although at least a half dozen more had at times suggested they too might oppose it. The debate to come will have broad implications for health care and households in every state.

    Before senators cast their votes, protesters in the Senate gallery chanted “Don’t kill us, kill the bill!” And before Mr. McCain showed up on the Senate floor, the majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, engaged in a prolonged and intense conversation with Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, who had opposed earlier versions of repeal legislation, and then on Tuesday held his vote back for an excruciatingly long time.

    As soon as Mr. McCain arrived and voted aye, Mr. Johnson cast a yes vote.

    Despite his vote to move ahead, Mr. McCain offered harsh words for the secretive process by which Senate Republican leaders came up with their bill to repeal and replace the health law, and he delivered a pessimistic take on its chances.

    “Asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition, I don’t think that’s going to work in the end — and probably shouldn’t,” Mr. McCain said, adding that it “seems likely” that the current repeal effort would end in failure.

    Senate Republican leaders have struggled all year to fulfill their promise of repealing the 2010 health care law, and the procedural vote in the Senate on Tuesday came within a vote to being another big setback for the party. The House narrowly approved a repeal bill in early May, but only after Republicans overcame their own difficulties in that chamber.

    President Trump kept up the pressure on Tuesday by posting on Twitter, and after the vote, he applauded the Senate. After the tally was complete, he lamented, “we had two Republicans that went against us, which is very sad, I think. It’s very, very sad for them.”

    The successful procedural vote on Tuesday is an important step forward for Mr. McConnell, who only a week ago appeared to have failed in his effort to put together a health bill that could squeak through the narrowly divided Senate.

    That said, it remained far from certain whether Republicans would actually be able to agree on a bill in the days to come — and what exactly the contents of that bill would be.

    For weeks, Mr. McConnell has been promoting and revising a comprehensive bill that would repeal the health law while also replacing it, but he has struggled to nail down the necessary support to pass that measure.

    An alternative would be to pass a narrower bill that would repeal the health law without putting in place a replacement, but that approach has been greeted with objections from some Republicans as well.

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    Published at Tue, 25 Jul 2017 19:08:52 +0000