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Senate Health Care Debate To Dismantle Obamacare Continues


The Senate is on its second day of debate on a Republican health care bill to remake the Affordable Care Act. The only thing that is certain at this point is what won't pass. Senate Republicans do not have the votes to pass the bill that already passed the House. Late last night, they voted down a revised Senate version of the House proposal. And this afternoon, the Senate rejected a third proposal to repeal most of Obamacare and leave Congress to figure out what to do to replace it with later. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is following all this now, and she joins us from the Capitol. Hello there.


MCEVERS: OK. So help me understand this.

DAVIS: (Laughter).

MCEVERS: What is the point of bringing up and then voting down all these different health care proposals?

DAVIS: Right. Especially because leadership knew they were going to fail. But this was really an exercise about forcing senators to lay their cards down on the table. Where are you on these provisions? And we didn't know where a lot of these senators were as a hard yes or no. Last night, nine senators rejected that Senate version of the bill. Another seven Republicans rejected the repeal-only path. They may not sound like big numbers, but in Senate math, that means they are a long way away from finding something that can get 50 votes and pass.

MCEVERS: OK. So what bill is the Senate even debating at this point?

DAVIS: It's very technical, but the base bill that they're now debating is the House-passed version of the bill. That is what they would say is the underlying measure here. And just a reminder that this is a proposal that essentially repeals all the taxes and mandates in Obamacare and replaces it with this new system of tax credits to buy insurance on the individual market.

That's the same proposal that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates would result in about 23 million fewer Americans insured over the next decade. The important thing to remember here, though, is that while that's the base bill, the Senate in the next couple of days could completely rewrite this bill through an amendment process that is essentially going to play out over the rest of the week here in the Senate.

MCEVERS: So that means senators can just offer whatever amendments they want?

DAVIS: That is correct. And that includes Democrats. Every single senator can offer unlimited amendments. We're expected to have hundreds of them offered to the bill. They'll be whittled down from there. There are some limits on what they can do. You know, it has to be related to health care. You can't offer amendments about any issue you want. And really, I think it's important to watch this debate not just about policy, but as a pretty good preview of what next year's political ads are going to look like. I just want to give you a couple examples. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin spoke on the floor today. He wants an amendment that would force members of Congress to buy their insurance on the individual market. This is him on the floor.


RON JOHNSON: The reason I'm offering this amendment - and I know it will not be popular - is because the only way Congress will have the courage to act is if they are affected every bit as much as the American public.

DAVIS: You can already hear the campaign ads about which way members voted to see if Obamacare applied to them or not. Here's another example from Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly. He's offering amendments that would protect Medicaid and not end the Medicaid expansion, which is what Republicans are aiming to do. Here he is.


JOE DONNELLY: It would allow us to move toward strengthening health care for our country. If you believe we should support children and families with complex medical conditions, then you should support this motion.

DAVIS: You know, do you support children and families? Another kind of - the rhetoric you're going to hear in these ads next year where they expect health care to dominate in the midterms. Democratic groups are already on the air in West Virginia against Shelley Moore Capito and in Nevada against Dean Heller for their votes yesterday in favor of starting this debate.

MCEVERS: Any sense yet of what the end game is here?

DAVIS: You know, usually at the end of a debate like this, the leader still can offer a final amendment, final proposal. It would essentially clean up anything or add in proposals or kick out proposals they didn't like that were added in during the amendment process. Mitch McConnell's expected to do exactly that. We don't know exactly what that bill's going to look like, but the amendment fight is supposed to give us some signals on what he's going to try and do. And that vote's expected by the end of the week.

MCEVERS: NPR's Susan Davis on Capitol Hill. Thank you.

DAVIS: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.