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Senate Republicans Vote to Kill Popular Obamacare Benefits in ‘Vote-a-Rama’ (Updated)

Christine Grimaldi

Republicans defeated an effort by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to safeguard the Affordable Care Act’s protections for women, including the law’s birth control benefit.

UPDATE, February 3, 9:10 a.m.: The House on Friday, January 13 took up the Senate’s budget resolution, passing it along mainly party lines. Nine Republicans and no Democrats voted against it. Final passage in both chambers fulfilled the first steps in the fast-track process to repeal the ACA.

A seven-hour “vote-a-rama” in the U.S. Senate culminated early this morning in one of the initial votes needed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but forced Republicans to face public scrutiny on Democrats’ amendments to preserve the reform law’s key health-care provisions.

The “vote-a-rama” is a term used to describe infrequent marathon votes on amendments to stretch out the consideration of a budget resolution under the reconciliation process. Republicans are using the fast-track process to bypass a filibuster and pass the embattled repeal of the ACA, also known as Obamacare.

The highly partisan forum allowed Democrats to bring up more than a dozen amendments to fend off the consequences of health-care repeal. They repeatedly interrupted the final vote on the fiscal year 2017 budget resolution needed to kick off the reconciliation process

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Among the amendments, Republicans defeated a Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) effort to safeguard the ACA’s protections for women, including the law’s birth control benefit, which ensures that contraceptives and contraceptive counseling are covered, without co-pays, as a preventive service. Only two Republicans—Sen. Susan Collins (ME), a Planned Parenthood ally during prior ACA repeal efforts, and Sen. Dean Heller (NV)—voted with Democrats.

Only Collins broke from her party in voting for a failed amendment to protect the ACA provision allowing people to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26. Eighty percent of Americans support the extension of dependent coverage to age 26—the highest level of support for any of the ACA provisions, which have favorable ratings overall, according to a new FiveThirtyEight report based on Kaiser Family Foundation polling.

GOP senators, except for Collins, took a stand against the ACA provision that makes it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions. Seventy percent of respondents to the Kaiser poll said they supported that provision.

Senate Republicans, after defeating the amendments, forged ahead with a final vote on the budget resolution. Both the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives must pass a budget resolution and yet-to-be-determined reconciliation bill, which will include the ACA repeal language and language defunding Planned Parenthood.

“Republicans have pulled the first thread that will unravel our entire healthcare system,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said in a news release after the budget resolution vote .

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against the budget resolution, even though he supports repeal, because he wants an immediate replacement. Republicans in both chambers are increasingly divided on whether to repeal-and-replace or repeal-and-delay the ACA, as they have yet to craft an alternative.

President-elect Trump told reporters Wednesday at his first press conference in 167 days that he will release his own health-care plan, without specifying any details. Trump said the repeal-and-replace approach would occur “essentially simultaneously” and that it would “most likely be on the same day or the same week, but probably the same day―could be the same hour.”

Huffington Post congressional reporter Matt Fuller pointed out that Trump was “evidently believing in an alternate universe where Congress works like that.”

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