Struggling under their slim 52-48 majority, Republicans say this week’s debate — including an all-night blizzard of amendment votes late Thursday known as vote-a-rama — may ultimately lead to a bill that merely ends the mandate that all Americans have insurance or pay a penalty, along with a few other provisions.
“This is likely to be a very long night,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday on the Senate floor as the chamber started the day’s session. He added, “It will not signal the end of our work, not yet.”
The idea, Republicans say, is to get a bill through the Senate and then negotiate a final agreement with the House, which passed a broader Affordable Care Act overhaul, H.R. 1628, in May.
“All we’re looking at is a way to get to that conference quick so we can begin to have those discussions and get a result,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican leader. Republicans are discussing how many elements of the Affordable Care Act they must repeal to get enough support to pass, he said. The House could also choose to pass the stripped-down repeal and send it to President Donald Trump.
“This is a high-wire act,” Cornyn said. “The whole thing.”
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Republican leader, said a plan also might eliminate the Affordable Care Act requirement that most employers offer insurance to their workers, as well as a medical-device tax estimated to generate almost $20 billion over a decade.
The behind-the-scenes talks Wednesday contrasted with what was taking place on the Senate floor, where lawmakers were debating whether to replace keye elements of the Affordable Care Act with a broad revision or even try to repeal the whole act outright.
Early votes have underscored the majority party’s difficulty in pushing through a GOP-only bill amid unified Democratic opposition.
The Senate rejected a fuller repeal of Affordable Care Act provisions 45-55 Wednesday. Seven Republicans voted against it, including Senate Health Chairman Lamar Alexander and Sen. John McCain, who returned to Washington from Arizona after a brain-cancer diagnosis to help advance the debate.
Late Tuesday, a 43-57 Senate vote swept aside a revised version of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal for replacing key Affordable Care Act provisions, a measure negotiated in secret during weeks of tense GOP talks. Hours earlier, senators barely agreed to start the debate on a 51-50 vote with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaker after two Republicans defected.