Senate sets ObamaCare repeal in motion in overnight vote

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Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander. ObamaCare will exit the stage the same way it entered it — on party-line votes that bypass normal order. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got the ball rolling early this morning, passing a budget resolution on a 51-48 vote that will allow repeal to pass under reconciliation:

The Senate early Thursday passed a measure to take the first step forward on dismantling President Barack Obama’s health care law, responding to pressure to move quickly even as Republicans and President-elect Trump grapple with what to replace it with.

The nearly party-line 51-48 vote came on a nonbinding Republican-backed budget measure that eases the way for action on subsequent repeal legislation as soon as next month.

The vote took place at 1:05 ET this morning, the last order of business on a long day that saw four post-midnight roll call votes. Among them were amendments “to create a point of order against legislation that makes women sick again” from Kirsten Gillibrand, and another against legislation that doesn’t lower drug prices from Ron Wyden. These are placemarkers for the 2018 election cycle, when Democrats will run ads claiming that Republicans voted to make women sick again and to make drugs more expensive. The ads will have cryptic references to “S.Amdt. 82” and “S.Amdt. 188,” so be prepared.

Interestingly, Rand Paul voted against the budget resolution, so it wasn’t quite a party-line vote. Dianne Feinstein didn’t cast a vote at all and Republicans had 51 without Paul, but Paul wants the replacement ready at the same time as repeal:

As @realDonaldTrump said this AM we will repeal Obamacare and replace it together. I'll continue to work with him and Senators on the plan.

— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) January 11, 2017

Granted, but this wasn’t a vote for repeal; it was a vote to set up a reconciliation vote for repeal. If Paul wants ObamaCare repealed, then he needs this step to take place first, even if there’s a replacement ready at the same time. His vote against it doesn’t make a lot of sense; Paul either thinks that he can personally deliver eight Democrats to vote for cloture in regular order on a repeal bill, or he’s being a gadfly in his usual manner. Don’t bet the farm on the former.

Regardless, the budget resolution will be taken up in the House. The Associated Press offers some skepticism about whether House Republicans will go along with the bill, but last night the Freedom Caucus declined to vote against it, as National Journal’s Daniel Newhauser reported. That will likely make the difference, even if a few moderates balk:

House GOP leaders have been whipping the budget this week, but without most of the Freedom Caucus, they likely would not have the votes necessary to the pass it. The Freedom Caucus often holds internal votes on whether to support bills, and if 80 percent of the group votes a certain way, the group must vote as a whole. Although some conservatives will still likely vote against the measure, avoiding that binding vote means Freedom Caucus members who want to support the budget can do so without repercussion.

The decision is a victory for House Republican leaders, who have been facing headwinds in their attempt to sell the first step of Obamacare repeal to their conference. It is also not clear that the Freedom Caucus was successful in forcing leadership to reveal details of their Obamacare replacement plan. Members were also assuaged by comments from leadership that a budget later this year will attempt to balance in 10 years and that an Obamacare replacement will come soon after Congress passes their repeal. …

Similarly, moderates in the House have expressed apprehension about voting for the budget before knowing what would replace Obamacare. Tuesday Group co-chairman, Rep. Charlie Dent, said Tuesday that he and his colleagues are concerned that moving too fast toward repeal without a clear plan to replace Obamacare could leave Republicans in the lurch later this year.

Again, that may be more of a problem when it comes to the actual repeal bill when it comes for a vote, but this isn’t that bill. It’s the table-setter for that bill, and this has to pass first regardless of whether a replacement comes with repeal or not. Skeptics will still have an opportunity to slow down or stall a repeal, but by that time, Paul Ryan and Donald Trump clearly foresee having a replacement bill ready or nearly so — and if they do, much of this GOP skepticism will abate accordingly.

Don’t expect dramatics in the House when this comes up for a vote. At least not from Republicans.

Addendum: By the way, let’s not forget who poured the sauce for the goose. This round of reconciliation is yet another development for which Democrats can thank Harry Reid … and themselves.

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