Republicans got the closest they’ll ever get to repealing Obamacare Thursday – unless and until they win the White House or bigger majorities in Congress.
The Senate voted 52-47 to gut the Affordable Care Act – and strip federal financing for Planned Parenthood – by using a budget process allowed the Republican majority to bypass Democratic filibusters, which have stalled all repeal efforts in the past.
The budget process required just 51 votes, not the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. The House of Representatives has repeatedly passed repeal measures only to see them die in the Senate.
However, the Senate approval late Thursday and the all-but-certain House approval soon are at best a moral victory and talking point for Republicans in the coming campaigns for president and control of the Congress.
The bill will go at last to President Barack Obama. But the White House guaranteed Thursday that he will veto it. And the GOP lacks the two-thirds votes needed in each chamber to override his veto.
“Rather than refighting old political battles by once again voting to repeal basic protections that provide security for the middle class, members of Congress should be working together to grow the economy, strengthen middle-class families and create new jobs,” the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.
It's important, I think, for the American people to understand that Republicans still stand strong and united against the Obamacare legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky
Republicans were undeterred by the symbolic nature of their action, using the vote to bash the law they say is driving up costs and limiting choices for consumers.
“The value is to let him know, the president, and others, that there’s a big division in this country, and a lot of us don’t like it, and the American people don’t like it,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama.
Americans indeed do not like it, but by anywhere near a wide margin. A recent Gallup Poll found Americans disapproving the law by a 52-44 margin. A Quinnipiac poll in July found them opposing it by 52-43.
“It’s defined by failure,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. “It’s punctuated with hopelessness. And the scale of its many broken promises is matched only by the scale of its defenders’ rigid and unfeeling responses to them.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, called it an “absurd attempt” because the law’s critics lack the votes needed to override Obama’s veto.
“Republicans are forcing another show vote on repeal,” Reid said. “This will be the 16th in the Senate, and honestly, I have lost track of how many in the House. Everyone knows this bill can’t become law.”
We have today and tomorrow an effort to show how wasteful, wasteful this time is trying to wipe out Obamacare.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada
While the Republicans had the necessary votes in the Senate to pass the bill, leaders had to work to round them up from some high-profile dissidents such as Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, both candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, and Mike Lee, R-Utah.
The three opposed a House version earlier this fall, complaining it didn’t go far enough.
All ended up voting for it Thursday. Lee said the vote “lays the groundwork for Obamacare to be erased from the books altogether.”
One key to gaining their support was the decision to add the language stripping federal financing for Planned Parenthood. The health care provider gets $450 million of its $1.3 billion annual budget from the federal government, though none by law can be used to pay for abortions.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that opposes abortion, pressed Cruz and Rubio to support the legislation. Said Dannenfelser on the conservative Red State blog. “Without their leadership and support of this effort, this bill likely cannot get to 51 votes.”
Two Republians voted against the measure - Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois.
A Democratic proposal to restore the funding, and approve $1 billion for security at women’s clinics, failed 54-46.
“I’ve heard from so many women and men who are tired of women’s health being undermined, threatened and used as a political football here in Washington,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington.
Maria Recio contributed to this article.