Senators are gearing up to pull an all-nighter as they head toward a showdown on Republicans’ years-long pledge to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
Lawmakers are expected to spend hours on the Senate floor Thursday night and into Friday morning as they sort through hundreds of amendments ahead of a final vote on their healthcare effort.
Senators are able to use the free-wheeling marathon session, known as a vote-a-rama, to force a vote on any amendment they want. The hours-long floor fights are frequently used to make members on the other side of the aisle take politically tough votes, creating fodder for the upcoming 2018 midterm election and 2020 election.
Marathon sessions frequently stretch into the early morning hours. A vote-a-rama in January that set up the GOP’s ability to fast-track an ObamaCare repeal ended after 1 a.m., while another vote-a-rama in 2015 wrapped up after 3 a.m.
“We all know this is likely to be a long night. … One phase of that process will end when the Senate concludes voting this week, but it will not signal the end of our work — not yet,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.
Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) quipped to reporters around a pair of 8:30 p.m. votes: “Just wait. Give it a couple hours. It’s going to get wacky.”
The GOP endgame — and whether there were enough votes to get there — remained unclear even in the hours leading up to the chaotic floor drama.
Republican senators appear to be coalescing around passing a “skinny repeal” of ObamaCare, and GOP leadership filed its plan late Thursday night.
The measure — which would be attached to the House-passed bill that is being used as a vehicle for any Senate action — is expected to include a one-year defunding of Planned Parenthood, a repeal of ObamaCare’s individual insurance mandate and at least partial repeal of the employer mandate.
But several GOP senators want an assurance that House Republicans will agree to a conference between the two chambers before the Senate has to take its final vote.
Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Bill Cassidy (La.) held an elevnth-hour news conference Thursday threatening to vote against the GOP healthcare legislation unless there was a guarantee that the House wouldn’t pass the Senate bill.
“There’s increasing concern on my part and others that what the House will do is take whatever we pass” and pass it without making changes, Graham said. “The ‘skinny bill’ as policy is a disaster. The ‘skinny bill’ as a replacement is a fraud.”
If the four senators voted against the bare bones repeal plan, they would be able to kill the legislation. GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) also voted against starting debate on the healthcare bill. Murkowski told reporters that she knows how she will vote, but isn’t announcing it ahead of time.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday
evening that the House is “willing” to go to conference, but the onus is on Senate Republicans to first show they can pass something. He vowed
that the House would not pass the Senate’s “skinny” repeal bill.
“Until the Senate can do that, we will never be able to develop a conference report that becomes law. We expect the Senate to act first on whatever the conference committee produces,” he said.
Ryan also held a call late Thursday evening with five GOP senators, including Johnson and Graham. The move appeared to assuage the two key senators, who told reporters after leaving a meeting in Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) office off the Senate floor that they would vote “yes.”
McCain appeared unconvinced ahead of the pair of 8:30 p.m. votes, telling reporters that he is “not satisfied.”
Republican senators also said part of the legislative limbo has been caused by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which still needs to release its analysis of key GOP proposals including from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) predicted that lawmakers could be waiting until September to get the CBO’s analysis for all of their proposals, hence why Republicans needed to go to conference and buy themselves more time.
The GOP’s repeal proposal will face a key test shortly after midnight. Democrats will try to send it to a Senate committee, which would effectively pigeonhole the amendment. If that move fails, as it’s expected to, Senate Republicans will vote on attaching it to the House-passed healthcare bill, which is being used as a vehicle for the Senate legislation.
As of 7 p.m., fewer than 200 amendments had been filed to the bill, with senators able to continue filing their proposals throughout the night.
Democrats have warned they are holding off on offering amendments until Senate Republicans unveil their healthcare endgame.
“Democrats will offer no further motions or amendments until we see this ‘skinny bill,’ but make no mistake, once we do see the bill, we will begin preparing amendments,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said from the Senate floor.
The New York Democrat signaled that his caucus will wait until after Republicans vote on the “skinny repeal” amendment to offer their own suggestions.
“I want to put my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on notice: My Democratic and Republican colleagues that they should prepare for numerous Democratic amendments if the skinny bill passes. … It won’t be the last vote,” he said.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said earlier this week that he wanted to offer 150 proposals, meanwhile Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) announced that he would file more than 100 amendments.
Democrats also want to use the Senate’s rulebook to try to stymie GOP proposals, by forcing them to meet 60-vote thresholds and keep their focus on trying on closed-door process to crafting the GOP healthcare bill.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has also filed more than a dozen amendments that would require GOP senators to vote on whether or not to keep provisions in the legislation that could result in higher insurance costs for individuals over the age of 50, low-income individuals or people with serious diseases.
Republicans returned some of that fire earlier Thursday, when Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) got a vote on his amendment — which he did not vote for — that would have established a single-payer healthcare system, an idea that has gained traction among the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Democrats, however, largely voted “present” Thursday on the amendment, which they argued amounted to a political ploy.
Red-state Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) — who are each up for reelection in states carried by Trump last year — as well as Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine) voted against the single-payer amendment.