Senate Democrats today shot down an attempt by Republicans to repeal the controversial new health care law.
Senators voted strictly along party lines --51 to 47 -- on the repeal: Every Republican supported repeal, while every Democrat who voted opposed repeal. The vote was called at 6:23 p.m., with Sen. Michael Bennet in the chair. Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Mark Warner, D-Va, missed the vote.
The repeal needed 60 votes to advance past a so-called budget point of order in the Senate, something that was never likely to happen, given the Democrats' majority in the upper chamber of Congress.
Ultimately, just getting the repeal to a Senate vote was a victory for Republicans. The GOP, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, insisted on a Senate vote to repeal the law after the Republican-controlled House voted to do so last month.
When Democrats brought the $35 billion Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill to the Senate floor -- touting it as "the first jobs bill" of the new Congress, one that would save or create an estimated 280,000 jobs -- Republicans attempted to attach the repeal of the health care law as an amendment. Democrats protested on the grounds of a budget point of order, because it would add to the deficit, which led to today's vote.
Earlier today, senators engaged in heated debate on the chamber floor about the law.
"The Republican leadership has offered an amendment to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act. Now, Mr. President, they're only keeping half of their promise," Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said. "They went out there and campaigned, and the Tea Party had a teapot boiling over and they said, 'We're going to offer a bill to repeal and replace.' Well, guess what they're doing here today? One more hollow, symbolic pander to the masses amendment. Their amendment offers a repeal, but it does not offer a plan or strategy to replace, because ... they have no ideas. They just want to pander to the crowd.
"If you want to rewrite your bill, keep your promise, Republican Party, that if you want to repeal, let's go to replace. I want to hear their ideas for replacing. I challenge them right here right now today on this amendment -- come in with other amendments on your idea to replace it. I want to know what it is that they want to do."
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., countered, "If this law is so good, why do so many people who supported it in the first place now say I don't want it to apply to me?
"As people know more and more about what's in this law, it is less popular on a daily basis."
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., proposed that in an effort to avoid a long, drawn-out fight, the Senate should pass a resolution asking the Supreme Court for a swift decision on the constitutionality of the law.
"I would urge the Senate to consider adopting the resolution asking the Supreme Court to step in and to decide quickly whether the current law meets the constitutional test," he said.
While the repeal failed to advance, senators did move forward with an effort to change the much-maligned 1099 provision of the health care law, which critics say would impose an onerous reporting burden on businesses. An amendment from Sen.Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to scrap the 1099 mandate from the law advanced by a vote of 81-17.
"We, as senators, have a choice," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said on the Senate floor. "We can move forward or we can look backward. We can make progress or stage a futile fight with the future. It's clear this week that while the American people and Senate Democrats are looking ahead, Senate Republicans are looking for a way to distract the American people."
Given that the Democrats still hold a 53 to 47 majority in the Senate, today's GOP push was an effort destined to fail. But the Republicans wanted to go on the record as trying to scrap a law that they have denounced as one of the worst in history.
"The case against this bill is more compelling every day," McConnell said. "Everything we learn tells us it was a bad idea. That it should be repealed and replaced. The courts say so. The American people say so. Job creators say so. It's time for those who passed this bill to show that they've noticed. Let's take this opportunity."
The repeal push was just one of three ways that Republicans are trying to kill the health care law. More than half the states in the country have mounted lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the law. Earlier this week, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the law was unconstitutional, a stance that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called "a dagger into the heart of Obamacare."
Two other judges, however, have ruled that the law is constitutional. The fight could end up in the Supreme Court.
Graham and Barrasso have introduced legislation in Congress to allow states to opt out of the law.
More Challenges to Health Care Law"Instead of requiring states to follow Obamacare's one-size-fits-all approach to health care policy, our bill lets states decide what works best for their citizens," Barrasso said earlier this week.
"This is basically giving states the right to come up with a plan that works best for them."
Graham and Barrasso's proposal would allow states to opt-out of the law's major provisions, such as the individual and employer mandates and the expansion of Medicaid.
But that opt-out push will have to wait.
Today's repeal vote came after weeks of insistence by McConnell that the Senate would go on record on the health care law.
Democrats said Tuesday they hoped today's vote would mean that Republicans would soon move on from their efforts to repeal the law, a wish that seems unlikely to come true.
"We want to have a debate on aviation transportation," said Reid, referring to the $35 billion FAA reauthorization bill brought by Democrats, "but the Republicans obviously want to do something on health care and so we want to get this out of their system very quickly."