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A Debate with Destiny: GOP Sends Repeal to the Floor

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When Majority Leader Mitch McConnell woke up this morning, he knew today was about one thing: moving on. Whether that meant moving on to the much-awaited health care debate or moving on to another strategy, no one knew. Halfway through the GOP weekly lunch, even the senators themselves had no idea how the rest of the day would unfold. But one thing was certain — the afternoon would be a defining moment for the repeal effort that put Republicans in power.

And in a huge boost to the GOP’s morale, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) was there to see it. Despite his own health care scare, the Arizona leader made the long trip to D.C. to join what he hoped would be history in the making. “Many of us have waited literally years for this moment to finally arrive,” Senator McConnell said, “and at long last, it has.” With McCain on deck, the Republicans did what seemed impossible only a few days before — voted to proceed on the debate that millions of American people have been waiting for.

After days of uncertainty, common sense ultimately prevailed, and by the narrowest of margins, the Senate agreed to press forward on a rollback of Obama’s failure of a health care law. “Sometimes you have to stand up and be counted,” said a Hill staffer. “You have to have a clarifying vote.” And Americans got one. In the end, only liberal Republicans Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) defied constituents, voting to end the discussion before it began. Despite having fair warning about Collins’s defection, fellow Republicans could only shake their heads. “It’s inexplicable to me why anyone — including Democrats — wouldn’t vote to allow us to debate the bill and offer amendments,” Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) told reporters. After all, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) pointed out, the motion to proceed is the logical place to start fixing the measure’s problem areas. “Any senator can introduce any amendment that he or she wishes … that’s the way the process works.” Obviously, Collins and her Democratic friends would rather obstruct the conversation than further it.

Meanwhile, everyone in D.C. agreed that the vote was a turning point — but to what, no one was sure. “What are we proceeding to?” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) asked. That’s been the million dollar question over the last few weeks, as leadership see-sawed between the 2015 repeal and the newer repeal and replace plans. As far as pro-lifers are concerned, both options moved the ball forward on the movement’s biggest concerns: defunding Planned Parenthood and guaranteeing that taxpayers weren’t footing the bill for elective abortion in the premium tax credits.

That push hit a speed bump late Friday, when the Senate parliamentarian gave an initial thumbs-down to the language on both. As the chamber’s referee, she hinted that the text was too policy-heavy, a big reconciliation no-no. Under the expedited process McConnell is using, every piece of the bill has to be budgetary in nature. Conservatives, who were already working on a contingency plan, didn’t panic. As Senator Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) office pointed out, “The parliamentarian ruling Friday was preliminary. They can rewrite it to save it.”

And rewrite it they will. “We think that the news on the ruling raises some concerns,” FRC’s David Christensen told The Hill, “but I think we’re hopeful that pro-life senators are working through ways to ensure that funds don’t continue to be used in the mandatory programs for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood … and trying to think through ways to ensure that tax subsidies are not going to be subsidizing abortion coverage,” he said.

One of those possibilities is redirecting the premium credits through programs that are already subject to bans on taxpayer-funded abortion, like the Children’s Health Insurance Program. While conservatives huddle on some creative workarounds, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) tried to reassure everyone that Republicans aren’t abandoning the pro-life provisions. Telling reporters that conservatives had already been through this in 2015, Thune seemed unruffled. “Some of it is just restructuring stuff, getting feedback and interacting with the parliamentarian to find out what’s the best way of doing it.”



 

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