Senate sets ObamaCare repeal in motion in overnight vote

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:

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 If Paul wants ObamaCare repealed, then he needs this step to take place first, even if there’s a replacement ready at the same time.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.