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Senate Takes First Step Toward Repeal Of Obamacare

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The Senate tradition is called "vote-a-rama" — hours and hours of voting on amendment after amendment to a non-binding budget resolution.

At about 1:30 a.m. Republicans achieved what they had set out to do. By a final vote of 51-48, the Senate approved a measure which calls for eliminating key elements of the Affordable Care Act in a manner not subject to a Democratic filibuster.

Best guess is the Senate is still several weeks away from repealing Obamacare — and Democrats went into Wednesday night with a messaging plan. Use vote-a-rama to get Republicans on the record about what may come next.

"We're going to figure out what parts of the Affordable Care Act they're going to preserve and what parts they're going to throw out," said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. "We're going to use votes tonight to try to divine what this secret replacement plan is."

To that, Senate Republicans said ... whatever. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., dismissed the Democrats' effort as a "totally meaningless exercise."

What McCain is getting at, is that the vote-a-rama is a wholly symbolic exercise, political theater. And McCain said he can't remember a single vote-a-rama ever being used against him.

"You can examine people's voting records and run against them, but when it's in a vote-a-rama? Which has no impact as far as the lives of any American is concerned?" said McCain. "It's ridiculous."

That didn't stop Democrats from forcing Republicans to vote on amendments about Medicaid expansion, funding for rural hospitals, women's access to health care and other popular programs.

The other side voted all of these down. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said he didn't feel one bit uncomfortable.

"It'll be uncomfortable if I have to sleep on a lumpy couch," Cassidy said. "But I'm a physician who's been on call and have slept many times on lumpy couches."

But any appearance of Republican unity during vote-a-rama couldn't change the fact that they're nowhere near consensus on how to replace the health care law. President-elect Donald Trump promised in a press conference Wednesday that no repeal would happen without a replacement plan.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that means repeal can't happen until late February or March.

"I don't see any possibility of our being able to come up with a comprehensive reform bill that would replace Obamacare by the end of this month," she said.

Even so, Democrats know this is a train they can't stop. As the night drew to a close, all they could do was stage a protest.

Senators aren't supposed to give speeches during a vote, but Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a disabled Iraq War veteran, ignored the rule.

As the presiding senator was gavelling for order, Duckworth said, "For all those with pre-existing conditions, I stand on prosthetic legs to vote no!"

The gavelling continued as Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said, "I vote no on behalf of the more than 2.3 million Minnesotans who can no longer be discriminated against because of the ACA!"

The House expects to take up the budget resolution Friday.

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