It's the bill that just won't die. After the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare seemed doomed to failure just last week, Senate Republicans narrowly voted
this afternoon to begin debating a bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act, despite having no replacement in sight.
Vice President Pence broke a 50–50 tie, after two Republican defections. Senator John McCain of Arizona, who was just diagnosed with brain cancer, returned to the Capitol to vote to proceed a bill that could leave tens of millions of people without health insurance over the next decade.
As of now, it's unclear what a replacement bill might look like, and no relevant legislation has been drafted. That doesn't seem to bother North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, who, when asked
by NBC News about the specifics of the GOP plan yesterday, quipped: "It doesn't concern me. As I said, I'll vote for anything."
The state’s junior senator, Thom Tillis, seems similarly unfazed. He, too, voted to proceed.
The Senate's vote comes at a pivotal time—and is an important first step for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose legacy as a savvy Republican dealmaker is threatened by the potential failure of Trumpcare. Last week, it seemed like the seven-year quest to obliterate Obamacare might finally have hit a wall,
after McConnell was forced to concede he didn't have the votes he needed to pass the Better Care Reconciliation Act.
But this is a zombie bill. Rather than simply let it die, McConnell devised a new strategy: the Senate would instead consider the bill the House passed in May and tweak it to become an almost-full Obamacare repeal, with some sort of replacement to come within two years. They will begin debating the bill now.
Even with this partial step forward for Republicans, there's no guarantee they will ultimately have the votes they need to wrangle a win. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted against the motion. And since nobody has any idea what the actual bill will look like, there’s no telling whether Republicans will be able to come to any sort of consensus.
Not long after the motion to proceed passed, Governor Cooper took to Twitter
to voice his concern.
"I’m alarmed the Senate is moving forward with plans to take away health care from millions and increase out-of-pocket costs dramatically," he wrote. "There’s no ‘fixing’ a bill this bad, and I urge Senators Tillis and Burr to oppose these efforts that are harmful for