This week Senate Republican leadership tried and failed to pass every version of their healthcare plans, known as Trumpcare, granting a victory to progressive advocates and Democratic Senators who fought for the last six months, and the last seven years, to defend the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid funding.
On Tuesday afternoon the Senate voted 50-50 on a motion to proceed to a debate on Trumpcare, forcing Vice President Mike Pence to come in and make the tie-breaking vote in favor of moving the bill forward. Senator John McCain had to be flown into Washington following extensive brain surgery and a diagnosis of a brain tumor in order for the motion to proceed to pass. Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Senator Susan Collins (ME) broke from party lines on the motion to proceed vote, arguing they could not vote to move forward on a bill they didn’t know anything about.
The successful motion to proceed vote opened up almost three full days of debate on the floor, procedural votes and offering of amendments during which time Republicans and Democrats had very little idea what the final bill would look like.
First Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put up for a vote the Senate’s version of Trumpcare, officially known as the Better Care and Reconciliation Act, which would have kicked 22 million people off of health insurance and decimated Medicaid services for 74 million. That failed by a vote of 43-57, with nine Republican Senators voting against the measure. Most of the Senators who voted against the plan did so because they felt it did not go far enough in repealing the ACA.
On Wednesday McConnell put up for a vote an ACA repeal bill identical to the one that had passed the Senate in 2015 but was then vetoed by President Obama. That vote failed 45-55 with 7 Republicans voting against the measure because they did not find it responsible to repeal the law without offering an immediate replacement.
By Wednesday evening, McConnell was getting desperate to put up a plan that would pass, and serious conversations were taking place about what was being called a “skinny repeal” of the ACA. The skinny repeal plan would’ve ended the ACA’s individual mandate requiring all people to purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty, done away with the ACA’s employer mandate requiring all businesses with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance, and defunded Planned Parenthood.
Most of the Republican Senators acknowledged that they had no intention of this skinny repeal ever becoming law, as it would have kicked 15 million people off of health insurance in the first year, thrown the insurance markets into chaos, and caused premiums to skyrocket. Instead they planned to pass it through the Senate and use it as a way to bring the bill into conference with House lawmakers, where they would began crafting a fuller plan from there.
But on Thursday afternoon, Speaker Ryan told House Republicans to clear their schedules and plan to stay in Washington for the next week, leading many Republican Senators to fear that the House intended to pass the skinny repeal as it was and send it straight to the President’s desk for signing. Speaker Ryan attempted to reassure them that the intention of the House was to bring the bill into conference committee, not to pass it as is, but multiple Senate Republicans were left unconvinced.
In the early hours of Friday morning, the Senate held a vote on the skinny repeal bill. As expected, Murkowski and Collins voted against the bill, but in an unexpected shift, they were joined in their descent by McCain, who could not bring himself to vote for a bad bill that he thought had the possibility of passing the House. When he cast the deciding vote, gasps of shock could be heard across the Senate chamber. The bill failed with a final vote of 49-51.
McConnell is now saying that the Senate plans to move onto other business, but progressive advocates are cautiously vigilant that Republicans might soon try again.
Media Resources: Feminist Majority 7/27/17; CNN 7/27/17; New York Times 7/27/17