Senate takes first step toward repealing ObamaCare
© Greg Nash
The Senate took a first step toward repealing ObamaCare and fulfilling a long-time campaign pledge in the early morning hours Thursday.
 
Senators voted 51-48 to pass a budget resolution that is being used as a vehicle for rolling back the Affordable Care Act, with the House expected to vote on Friday.

Republicans needed a simple majority of votes to clear the repeal rules, instructing committees to begin drafting repeal legislation, through the upper chamber, with the vote falling largely along party lines.

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 Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voted against the budget resolution because it didn’t balance, while no Democrat supported the repeal rules.

Instead, Democrats rose one by one from their seats on the Senate floor in protest to state why they were voting against the resolution.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (I-Vt.) warned that if the GOP resolution moved forward Americans would die.

"Up to 30 million Americans will lose their healthcare, with many thousands dying as a result," he said. "Because when you have no health insurance and you can't go to a doctor or a hospital, you die."
 
Meanwhile, Paul said in a statement after the vote that while he supports nixing ObamaCare, "putting nearly $10 trillion more in debt on the American people’s backs through a budget that never balances is not the way to get there."
 
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who had surgery to install a pacemaker, missed the "vote-a-rama" session that began Wednesday evening.

Lawmakers were able to use the hourslong voting debate to force a vote on any amendment to the budget resolution. Some 180 amendments were filed.

The late-night passage of the budget resolution comes despite deep divisions on when and how to replace ObamaCare, which were on full display. Lawmakers spent more than six hours on the Senate floor and voted on more than 19 amendments, none of which were successfully added to the resolution.

But Republicans managed to avoid what was expected to be the top fight of the night, when a group of five GOP senators dropped their push to delay the ObamaCare repeal legislation. 

Lawmakers had wanted to push the deadline for committee repeal proposals from Jan. 27 to March, which they argued was needed to give lawmakers extra time to lock down details on a replacement bill and work with the incoming Trump administration about next steps. 

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), one of the Republicans backing the amendment, said the decision was a result of a "very thoughtful discussions" within Republicans and recognizing that the Jan. 27 date is a "placeholder."

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) added that "we have assurances from leadership that this date is not a date that is set in stone." 

But Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Air Force makes criminal reporting changes after Texas massacre We need a better pathway for allowing civilians to move guns across state lines MORE (R-Texas) had warned that pushing back the date could create a "jam" on the Senate floor with GOP lawmakers wanting to tackle an ambitious agenda in President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE's first 100 days. 

Republicans are also facing larger divisions among GOP members and the incoming Trump administration on when to replace ObamaCare.

Trump said during a press conference on Wednesday that repeal and replace legislation would occur near simultaneously if not at the same time.

“It'll be repeal and replace. It will be essentially, simultaneously. It will be various segments, you understand, but will most likely be on the same day or the same week, but probably, the same day, could be the same hour,” he said.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — who was mocked by Trump during his press conference — told reporters that the president-elect “needs to call [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell because that's not where we're headed.”

McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly sidestepped being tied down on the details of repealing and replacing ObamaCare and didn't take a position on the GOP amendment earlier this week. 

He said Wednesday that after Senate passage they can send the budget resolution "to the House and begin taking the next steps to finally move away from ObamaCare while we move ahead with smarter healthcare policies."

Most of Wednesday night’s action came from Democrats, who used the vote-a-rama to take votes on healthcare and entitlement programs, forcing Republicans to go on the record on a number of key issues.

Democrats are warning that if Republicans break ObamaCare, they will own any political backlash and roil the insurance market.

Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) appealed to Republicans earlier Wednesday, urging them to back down from the healthcare fight.

"If Republicans go forward with this plan, they may mollify their base, but they will ostracize and hurt the American people, and ultimately lose in the court of public opinion," he said.

Democrats forced votes on a myriad of non-binding amendments aimed at blocking legislation that would "make America sick again," a new Democratic slogan on the GOP plan to repeal ObamaCare without a replacement. 

One, from Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), would have made it harder to pass legislation that would “make young people sick again” and allow young adults to stay on their parents' healthcare coverage until they turn 26, one of the more popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Another, from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would have cracked down on legislation that would make "women sick again" by decreasing access to preventative healthcare, birth control and maternity care. 

But Republicans defeated each of the amendments. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) broke ranks from her party and supported Baldwin's amendment. 

The Senate also defeated a pair of competing amendments on importing prescription drugs. 

Sanders tried to use Trump to win over Republicans for his amendment to allow drugs to be imported from Canada. 

"Let's be clear about it today: Mr. Trump, a guy I don't quote very often, has said that pharma gets away with murder. That's what Trump said. He is right," Sanders said ahead of the votes on the amendments. "The time has come for us to stand up to the drug companies." 
 
But ultimately 13 Democrats voted against the Sanders proposal, while 12 Republicans voted for it.
 
It wasn't all business as senators powered through the more than six-hour session.
 
Cornyn and Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Dems push for more money for opioid fight MORE (R-S.D.) were overheard comparing their Apple watches, while Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Dem senator slams Trump's 'moral authority' after 'Pocahontas' remark Overnight Cybersecurity: Kushner was contacted about WikiLeaks before election | Tech experts blast Trump's 'extreme vetting' plan | Senate passes defense bill with measure to modernize feds' IT MORE (D-N.M.) was spotted reading a magazine and later sitting on the side of the chamber talking to Senate pages. 
 
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) also tweeted out observations from the Senate floor throughout the session, including comparing discussion between lawmakers as "ailment one upsmanship."