Healthcare bill headed back to the House after marathon Senate push

Healthcare bill headed back to the House after marathon Senate push

Senate Democrats defeated 29 straight Republican amendments to the Democratic healthcare reconciliation bill before losing a key parliamentary ruling in Thursday’s early hours that will force the legislation back to the House of Representatives.

Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin sustained two GOP objections to two minor sections of a Pell Grant provision in the student loan part of the bill intended to change the original healthcare reform bill passed by both chambers.

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The Senate held 10 hours of continuous, marathon voting starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, with Republicans trying throughout to lodge a successful objection to the bill to force its return to the lower chamber. The bill’s passage by the House is a safe bet, prompting Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) to call Frumin’s ruling “a consolation prize.”

Democrats said Frumin’s ruling was expected and that any verdict of a Republican victory was an exaggeration.

“I don’t think anything happened that wasn’t predictable,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). “We’re not surprised.”

The Senate adjourned at 3 a.m., and is scheduled to reconvene at 9:45 a.m. Thursday and continue debating amendments until a final vote at 2 p.m.; attention would be turned to points-of-order objections, with Republicans eyeing up to three possible parliamentary violations in the bill. If final passage is approved, the bill would then go to the House; final passage there would send the bill to President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ Democrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration Trump’s first year in office was the year of the woman MORE for his signature.

Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle MORE (D-Nev.) had vowed to push toward a final vote in Thursday’s early hours, after Democrats successfully fought off GOP amendments to preserve the bill intact and prevent a House vote before it adjourns for its spring recess. The House already approved the reconciliation bill last weekend.

Earlier Wednesday evening, Democrats locked down on vote after vote on GOP amendments that would have shrinked or repealed altogether the healthcare reform bill passed by the Senate last December and by the House on a 219-212 vote last weekend. As of 3 a.m. Thursday, the chamber had defeated 29 straight Republican proposals and adopted none.

Although 20 hours of debate are normally required under reconciliation rules, Democrats cut that short by surrendering their half of that time on Wednesday morning — and GOP leaders decided later in the day against a strategy of filing repeated amendments.

Democratic leaders are moving the bill through the Senate under special parliamentary rules, known as the reconciliation process, under which they only need to amass 51 votes, meaning they can afford to lose several members of their party.

Democrats Evan Bayh of Indiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Nelson of Nebraska strayed frequently from their party during Wednesday night’s voting. Bayh, who is retiring, crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans 10 times. Lincoln, who faces a tough re-election race, supported Republicans eight times. Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia also bucked his party three times.

Nelson, who has come under fire from the conservative base of his state for his support of the healthcare reform effort, supported the GOP the most — on 20 out of 29 votes as of the 3 a.m. adjournment.

Nelson said he had informed Reid of his votes beforehand.

“I evaluate each of these amendments individually. I didn’t agree to be part of a bloc, to vote a certain way,” Nelson said of his votes. “I’m interested in the other side’s ideas, and I agree with them on a number of them.

“I think the leadership and my colleagues know that I had some reservations about the bill, although I’m not backing away from my support of the bill. There were pieces and parts of it that I didn’t agree with, and if I have a chance to do something there, I have and I will and will continue in the future.”

In 10 hours of voting, only three Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Tech: States sue FCC over net neutrality repeal | Senate Dems reach 50 votes on measure to override repeal | Dems press Apple on phone slowdowns, kids' health | New Android malware found Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals MORE and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and George Voinovich of Ohio, who supported Democrats in blocking an amendment by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) that would have allowed Medicare patients to opt out of receiving certain benefits.

Senators began voting at 5 p.m. and rarely left the chamber over the next several hours, venturing only into the cloakrooms and only occasionally into the hallways where several members had hideaway offices nearby.

In contrast to floor speeches delivered during the afternoon and on Tuesday, Wednesday night’s voting was often marked by levity and was rarely tense. At one point, after Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Canada tamps down worries about US NAFTA withdrawal Canada worried Trump will withdraw from NAFTA: report MORE (R-Kan.) gave a tongue-in-cheek speech in favor of one GOP amendment, Democratic Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusSteady American leadership is key to success with China and Korea Orrin Hatch, ‘a tough old bird,’ got a lot done in the Senate Canada crossing fine line between fair and unfair trade MORE (D-Mont.) responded by teasing Roberts over the University of Kansas’s recent loss in the NCAA basketball tournament.

The evening’s mood suggested a foregone conclusion; Republicans privately conceded that the bill was on its way to passage and said they weren’t surprised at the overwhelming defeat of their amendments. Democrats, meanwhile, celebrated by munching on lobster rolls from Legal Seafood in their cloakroom in honor of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who had championed healthcare reform for much of his 47-year career.

Asked how voters should regard the Republican attempts to amend the bill, Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration White House: Trump remarks didn't derail shutdown talks Schumer defends Durbin after GOP senator questions account of Trump meeting MORE said, “much ado about nothing.”

The various Republican proposals would have stripped or altered certain provisions in the bill, and many were intended to put Democrats in tough voting positions going into this fall’s elections.

Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.) proposed preventing Medicare cuts, for example, while Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.) proposed striking all special provisions for states in the bill and Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoTrump calls for looser rules for bank loans in Dodd-Frank overhaul Week ahead: Lawmakers eye another short-term spending bill Overnight Finance: Trump promises farmers 'better deal' on NAFTA | Clock ticks to shutdown deadline | Dems worry Trump pressuring IRS on withholdings | SEC halts trading in digital currency firm MORE (R-Idaho) proposed an amendment to prohibit any taxes for middle-income families. Gregg’s amendment failed, 42-56; McCain’s proposal failed, 43-54, and Crapo’s failed, 43-56.

Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziGOP is addressing tax cuts and a pension bill that could help coal miners Overnight Finance: Congress sends Trump funding bill to avert shutdown | WH sees 'tentative' deal on defense spending | GOP discovers corporate tax snag | Consumer bureau fight heats up | Apple could see B windfall from tax bill Overnight Finance: Congress sends Trump bill to avert shutdown | GOP discovers corporate tax snag | CFPB leadership battle rages MORE (Wyo.) also proposed striking a mandate that small businesses offer health insurance, which failed, 41-58; Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump’s infrastructure plan may slip to next month Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism Trump's infrastructure team to huddle with senators MORE (Wyo.) tried to prohibit any insurance premium increases, which failed, 41-57; Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWeek ahead: Lawmakers near deal on children's health funding Ryan suggests room for bipartisanship on ObamaCare Time to end fiscal year foolishness MORE (Tenn.) filed an amendment to reduce interest rates for student loans, which failed, 41-58; Sen. George LeMieux (Fla.) proposed steering members of Congress into Medicaid, which failed, 40-59; and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) proposed allowing states to opt-out of the new healthcare law. That failed on a 41-58 vote.

One amendment that received perhaps the most early attention: a proposal by Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnRepublicans in Congress shouldn't try to bring back earmarks Republicans should know reviving earmarks is a political nightmare Former GOP senator: Trump has a personality disorder MORE (Okla.) to prohibit Viagra from being distributed to convicted sex offenders. That failed on a 42-57 vote.

In all, as of the 3 a.m. adjournment, the closest Republicans came to a successful vote was a 46-52 vote on an amendment by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Hoyer suggests Dems won't support spending bill without DACA fix MORE (Texas) to strip an investment tax from the bill.

Besides the reconciliation bill, senators are still expected to pass an extension of unemployment benefits which are currently scheduled to expire at the end of the month.

This story has been updated from an earlier version