Health care: Senate votes and the ‘skinny bill’


The Senate will enter the home stretch of a dramatic debate to overhaul Obamacare on Thursday, with lawmakers bracing for what could be a long and grueling marathon series of votes that extends well into the night and morning.

And the text of the GOP plan — what is expected to be a so-called “skinny bill” that rolls back Obamcare’s individual and employer mandates — remains unseen by senators or the public.

The Republican Party’s ongoing efforts to pass legislation to weaken the Affordable Care Act is expected to culminate in the famous Senate process known as vote-a-rama, in which senators can introduce an unlimited number of amendments — often for the purpose of driving home a political point and forcing colleagues in the other party to cast uncomfortable votes.

Throughout the week, Democratic aides said they were fully prepared to flood the zone. The ultimate goal will be “to make this process so painful that voting ‘no’ on the final proposal will be the only thing that provides relief for them,” was one aide’s blunt outlook.

But to press Republicans to unveil their “skinny repeal” plan, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Thursday evening Democrats would stop offering amendments during the remaining debate time until the final GOP proposal was revealed. Their reasoning: we need time to study it and prepare amendments to it.

“We just heard from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that under such a plan, as reported in the press, 16 million Americans would lose their health insurance and millions more would pay a 20% increase in their premiums,” Schumer said.

Republicans dismissed the tactic as an empty threat and noted that Democrats had offered few proposals up until that point.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s ultimate goal remains the same — to convince enough of his colleagues — 50, to be exact — to vote “yes” on the passage of a final bill and advance to a conference committee with the House.

“What a skinny repeal does is it gets it to a conference committee,” said Sen. Mike Rounds. “At that stage, then we can begin the process of rebuilding again as one option.”

While it’s still unclear what that ultimate legislation will be, for now, leadership is considering a “skinny repeal” bill — a drastically scaled down version of an Obamacare repeal bill that Republicans passed in 2015 and was vetoed by former President Barack Obama.

It would roll back Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates, and there is some optimism that that measure could garner enough support among Republicans, particularly as it would leave Medicaid untouched.

The dramatic vote-a-rama on Thursday would come as McConnell’s efforts to rally his troops around a more comprehensive “repeal and replace” bill have been woefully unsuccessful. Multiple attempts to simultaneously placate both the demands of his moderate colleagues — particularly those hailing from Medicaid-expansion states — as well as staunch conservatives pushing to strip out as many Obamacare regulations and taxes as possible — have fallen through.

Throughout a debate on the Senate floor, Republican senators already failed several times to pass proposals to overhaul the health care system, including the 2015 repeal bill that they had successfully passed less than two years ago.

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