Senate rejects healthcare repeal

The Senate on Wednesday voted down a repeal of President Obama’s healthcare act along party lines, 47-51.

The vote came two weeks to the day the Republican House voted 245-189 to repeal the law, and just days after a federal judge ruled Obama’s signature legislative achievement unconstitutional.

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Republicans have vowed to carry the fight forward, saying they will seek to defund the law as it is implemented. The GOP also has promised Wednesday’s repeal vote will not be the last in this Congress.

The vote came on a budgetary point of order, which Republicans needed 60 votes to overcome. Democrats argued repealing healthcare would add an estimated $230 billion to the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) called that estimate “preposterous.”

McConnell was trying to add an amendment repealing the healthcare law to legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration.

Neither the result nor vote breakdown was a surprise. No Democrats in attendance voted in favor of the measure and no Republicans rejected it. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) were absent for the vote.

Just before the vote on the budgetary point of order, the Senate did vote to repeal an unpopular part of the healthcare overhaul that requires businesses to report to the IRS annual purchases of goods and services of more than $600 from each vendor. 

The Senate voted 81-17 to eliminate the 1099-reporting requirement, with only Democrats voting against the measure.

Republicans have acknowledged their goal with the vote was to get Democrats on record as defending a law that remains deeply unpopular with large swaths of the public. Twenty-three Senate Democrats are up for reelection in 2012, and many of them face tough races.

"I think the American people understand fully this issue and they know for sure where Democrats and Republicans are," McConnell said after the vote.

Republicans have vowed to pursue their attacks on the law until the next election, when they hope to have enough Senate votes to repeal it. In the meantime, they’ve announced plans to withhold funding for its implementation and have introduced multiple bills to repeal bits and pieces, such as the individual mandate or the Medicare payment board.

On Tuesday, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Barasso (R-Wyo.) introduced legislation that would allow states to opt out of many provisions of the law, including its individual mandate. The goal, Graham acknowledged, is to make reform fail so lawmakers “would have to replace it with something that made more sense.”

Graham vowed to bring up the provision as often as possible.

“If we're going to vote on naming a post office this year, you're going to be voting on this,” Graham said. “We're going to bring this up every time we can.”

The fate of the healthcare law seems likely to be decided by the Supreme Court. Two judges have ruled the bill’s mandate that people have insurance, which would require many consumers to buy insurance, is unconstitutional. Two other judges have ruled it passes constitutional muster.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) on Wednesday called for his colleagues to support a resolution fast-tracking legal challenges to the Supreme Court.

“The vote to repeal healthcare is largely symbolic because the Supreme Court is going to have to be the one to decide this matter,” Nelson said Wednesday. “We ought to do the right thing and ask the high court to rule quickly so we don't keep arguing over this for the next several years.”

The Obama administration, however, has said it would appeal Monday's decision to an appeals court where it feels confident it will prevail.

In contrast to the party-line Senate vote, a handful of Democrats joined unified Republicans in voting to repeal the law in the House last month.

When healthcare was approved by the Senate last year, every Democrat voted in favor in a 60-39 vote. On Wednesday, most Democratic senators were wary of being tarred as flip-floppers, and freshman Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a vocal critic, said he wanted a chance to fix the law before repealing it.

McConnell has previously said Republicans owed voters who returned them to power in the House and increased their numbers in the Senate a vote on healthcare.

This story was updated at 7 p.m.