The US Senate yesterday took a first concrete step toward dismantling Obamacare, voting to instruct key committees to draft legislation repealing US President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance program.
The vote was 51-48. The resolution now goes to the US House of Representatives, which is expected to vote on it this week. Scrapping Obamacare is a top priority for the Republican majorities in both chambers and US president-elect Donald Trump.
Republicans have said that the process of repealing Obamacare could take months and developing a replacement plan could take longer.
However, they are under pressure from Trump to act fast; he said on Wednesday that the repeal and replacement should happen “essentially simultaneously.”
About 20 million previously uninsured people gained health coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as Obamacare is officially called. Coverage was extended by expanding Medicaid and through online exchanges where consumers can receive income-based subsidies.
Republicans have launched repeated legal and legislative efforts to unravel the law, criticizing it as government overreach.
They say they want to replace it by giving states, not the federal government, more control.
In recent days some Republicans have expressed concern about the party’s strategy of voting for a repeal without having a consensus replacement plan ready.
US House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan said this week that he wants to pack as many replacement provisions as possible into the legislation repealing Obamacare.
However, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, also a Republican, said this could be difficult according to Senate rules.
The resolution approved yesterday instructs committees of the House and Senate to draft repeal legislation by a target date of Jan. 27. Both chambers will then need to approve the resulting legislation before any repeal goes into effect.
Senate Republicans are using special budget procedures that allow them to repeal Obamacare by a simple majority; this way they do not need Democratic votes.
Republicans have a majority of 52 votes in the 100-seat Senate.
One Republican, Senator Rand Paul, voted no yesterday, saying that the budget resolution would allow the federal debt to increase by more than US$9 trillion over the next decade.
Democrats criticized the Republican effort, saying that they have never united around an alternative to Obamacare.
“They want to kill ACA, but they have no idea how they are going to bring forth a substitute proposal,” Senator Bernie Sanders said.
Trump on Wednesday said that he would submit a replacement plan as soon as his nominee to lead the US Department of Health and Human Services, Representative Tom Price, is approved by the Senate.
Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 over united Republican opposition. Democrats say the act is insuring more Americans and helping to slow growth in healthcare spending.
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