In a turn of events that seemed improbable a week ago, Senate Republicans voted to begin debate on a series of proposals to repeal and replace Obamacare this afternoon. Mitch McConnell needed every single "aye" tally he got, as Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski sided with Democrats to attempt to block the process from moving forward. But after left-wing agitators were arrested for disrupting Senate proceedings with angry chants, and John McCain dramatically arrived in the chamber for the first time since his brain cancer diagnosis, Vice President Mike Pence broke the deadlock. The motion to proceed (MTP) succeeded, 51-50.
It's important to emphasize that in spite of the theatrics, the Senate didn't even come close to passing a healthcare bill today. Crossing this threshold merely allows Obamacare replacement proposals to be debated, amended, and voted upon. McConnell and his team are keenly aware that they're still a long way from final passage. The fact that two Republican members voted with Chuck Schumer to shut down the process before it even got off the ground underscores that reality. There are a number of Senators who aren't sold on the BCRA -- or any of the current alternatives -- who nevertheless did the right thing and supported the motion to proceed. Bringing them into the fold to back an actual bill is a separate and completed task. Threading this needle will be quite a challenge:
Tough sledding lies ahead -- but as I said in above, rounding up 50 votes looked insurmountable even a few days ago, so critics underestimate McConnell at their peril. We'll run through a few "what's next?" scenarios tomorrow, but this memo suggests what might be on the horizon:
Now that the MTP has gone through, "Plan C" (trying to negotiate a "compromise" with this crew) has been relegated to the back burner. "Plan B" (passing the 2015 repeal measure) will get its fair shot, but will likely fail by a considerable margin. What McConnell needs to work out is whether he can piece together a bare majority for an amended "Plan A" (the BCRA), or if a "Plan D" ("skinny" repeal) may be a viable fallback plan. Today marked another step on the path of replacing the collapsing failure of Obamacare, but it was just a small step. Stay tuned. I'll leave you with McCain's emotional speech after this afternoon's vote. It was an ode to the Senate, but also a warning against its descent into divisive partisanship, and a reminder that Congress is a coequal branch of the federal government. It earned a bipartisan standing ovation: