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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Senate Vote Guts Obamacare, Planned Parenthood Funding

WASHINGTON (CN) - After a nearly seven-hour voting marathon Thursday, the Senate passed a sweeping bill that would partly gut the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood funding.

Republicans used budget reconciliation to push the legislation through the Senate 52-47.

This process requires just 51 votes to pass and is not subject to filibuster by the minority party.

The White House promised Wednesday that President Barack Obama would veto the legislation if it reached his desk.

"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," a statement from the White House said.

The reconciliation package repeals two key mandates of the Affordable Care Act: one requiring people to have health insurance, and another requiring businesses with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance to their employees.

It also repeals the medical equipment excise tax, of which Republican lawmakers have been particularly critical.

A Republican amendment to the resolution repeals the so-called "Cadillac tax" on the most expensive employer-sponsored health plans. The amendment drew wide support from both Republicans and Democrats and passed 90-10.

The bill also contains a provision that defunds Planned Parenthood, which has been a goal of Senate Republicans for several months. Democrats were not able to muster enough votes to support an amendment from three moderate Republicans to strike language defunding the organization.

Democrats in the Senate widely criticized the Republican effort to repeal the president's signature healthcare law in the week leading up to the vote. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, took to the floor Thursday afternoon to ask if Republicans were suffering from a "serious case of memory loss."

"Mr. President, a few months ago I asked my Republican colleagues if they had fallen down, hit their heads and thought they woke up in the 1950s," Warren said. "And today I am back to check on my Republican colleagues because it appears they are suffering from a serious case of memory loss."

Others said the vote was an example of the majority bowing to right-wing members of the party to pass legislation that stands no chance of getting past the president's desk.

"Everyone knows this bill won't become law," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said at a press conference Tuesday. "What they're doing on the reconciliation is going nowhere."

But Republicans seemed content with Obama vetoing the bill, saying the vote was about holding the president and Democrats responsible for a law they consider "broken."

"Obviously we're not anticipating the presidential signature, but I think the president should have to take credit for the debacle that this legislation has created," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

Republicans say the law commonly known as "Obamacare" has increased pressure on middle-class families by increasing premiums and the overall cost of health insurance plans.

"For too long, Democrats did everything to prevent Congress from passing the type of legislation necessary to help these Americans who are hurting," McConnell said on the floor Thursday. "Today, that ends. Today, a middle class that's suffered enough from a partisan law will see the Senate vote to build a bridge past Obamacare and toward better care."

The fight over gun control in the wake of the mass shooting in San Bernardino Wednesday also worked its way into the reconciliation package, with senators on both sides of the aisle offering amendments to target gun laws.

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Dianne Feinstein, D-California, offered competing amendments to close a loophole that allows people on FBI terror watch lists to buy guns. Cornyn's amendment put a 72-hour delay on gun purchases by people on the watch list, during which time an attorney general could seek an injunction on the purchase.

Cornyn said on the floor the delay was the best way to prevent people with bad intentions from getting a weapon without restricting Second Amendment rights.

Reid questioned whether the delay would do anything to prevent mass shootings.

"How long does it take to shoot up a school?" he asked. "A mall? Someone's home? Fifteen minutes? Five minutes? You could be on the terror watch list, buy a gun and watch the time go by."

Feinstein's proposal contained similar language but without the delay. Both bills failed on a procedural vote raised by the opposing party.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, later offered an amendment to create a national background check database and consistent background check system, but it suffered the same fate as his colleagues' bills.

An amendment from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that would have made changes to the federal background check system, addressed the criminal justice system's role in mental health treatment and changed the way gun crimes are prosecuted failed by the same procedural vote.

Later in the day Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican with a libertarian bent - and a presidential candidate - offered an amendment that would have created concealed-carry permits for Washington, D.C., and given national reciprocity to all concealed-carry permits. After Paul spoke about the amendment, Feinstein briefly lectured him on libertarianism and states' rights before helping Democrats reject the effort.

Another Paul amendment that would have "paused" issuing visas to people coming from certain nations he said have a history of exporting terrorists failed resoundingly, 89-10.

The House would have to approve changes to the reconciliation package before it goes to the president.

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