Today’s Top Story: 50 Republican Senators and tie-breaker Vice President Pence voted Tuesday afternoon to open debate on a nebulous Senate version of the AHCA tax cut/Medicaid cut/ACA repeal effort. The process consists of 20 hours of debate and proposed amendments, likely comprising wildly different versions of the bill, followed by a final vote to pass or not pass the legislation out of the Senate. From there, the Senate bill will either be taken up directly by the House or pass to conference committee along with the House AHCA so that one compromise bill can emerge for a final vote in both houses.
Presumably multiple versions of the several Senate bills under the BCRA name will be put up for a vote during the amendment process, but it is not known which version will ultimately be put to a final vote. That decision rests with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Tuesday’s vote was notable for several reasons. First, it featured a number of Republican Senators changing previous “No” votes to “Aye” on the motion to proceed for a variety of reasons, some apparent (Senator Rand Paul voting yes in exchange for consideration of a straight ACA repeal), some less so (Senator Dean Heller had been wavering for some time before voting yes).
Second, the vote to proceed with debate is notable simply for being the next step in a legislative process whose undemocratic nature is unprecedented in living memory. Not content to merely write the bill in secret, without input from Democrats or even female Republicans, McConnell put forth the motion to proceed without any understanding among the public or his fellow Senators as to what, exactly, they would be voting on. Any version of the bill or its amendments to be briefly discussed and then voted up or down during the remainder of the 20 hour process will not be scored by the CBO, may contain provisions that (as per rulings from the parliamentarian) cannot be passed in a reconciliation bill, and may not be adjusted for any of this before ultimately being voted on in the expected conclusion this Thursday or Friday. In short, an enormously unpopular bill which will almost certainly result in tens of millions of additional uninsured Americans and thousands of deaths is being rushed through in secrecy and confusion in the hopes of hiding the bill from the voters and the voters from the Senators. It remains to be seen whether Republican Senators can agree on a version of this bill, but it is certain that a significant hurdle before the ultimate passage of some Republican health care bill into law has been crossed.
Finally, the last yes vote on the motion to proceed was cast today by Senator John McCain, who recently underwent surgery for a blood clot above his eye and was subsequently diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite the health risks involved, McCain unexpectedly returned to DC in time to cast a vote in favor of stripping the very health care from which he so recently benefited from tens of millions of Americans. In an ostensibly rousing speech, the Senator followed his party line vote by calling for bipartisan compromise. Late Tuesday night McCain voted in favor of a version of the bill he called a “shell” and swore he would not vote for just hours earlier, proving that even serious illness could not hamper his facility with hypocrisy and lies.