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Wednesday, as its first major act, the new House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal the government takeover of health care. On Thursday, the House passed a “replace” resolution instructing key committees to begin replacing Obamacare with a patient-centered approach.
“Repeal and replace” is proceeding according to schedule.
Official Washington wants to dismiss the repeal vote as a stunt, and move on. But far from “symbolic,” yesterday’s vote showed repeal is real and creates huge momentum for the next stop: the Senate.
The vote was unprecedented. Obamacare mustered 13.7 percent fewer votes in the House than when it was enacted ten months ago. It takes 218 votes to pass a bill in the House, and last year Democrats struggled to squeaked their bill through with 219.Yesterday, repeal garnered a solid 245, while Obamacare supporters could muster a bare 189, all from a diminished Democratic caucus shorn of 63 members in the recent elections.
A major entitlement program, becoming less popular? That never happens!
Yet it did. Why? Because this law is different from Medicare and other big entitlements of the past. It is opposed by 60% of the American people, who think control of health care decisions should belong to patients, families, and doctors, not politicians and their pals.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where the conventional wisdom says that repeal will die. But the press may have started the funeral parade too soon. There is in fact a way to force a vote. And Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.), leader of the Republican minority, vowed yesterday to do just that.
The debate is going to be fun. While Sen. Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), claims to be eager to debate the bill, in order to persuade the American people (finally!) of its inestimable merits, his party leader, Harry Reid, (D-Nev.), has vowed to do all in his power to block a vote on it. Hmm. What does Reid know that Schumer doesn’t? Is the Leader perhaps worried that the 23 of his Democratic colleagues who are up for reelection in 2012 might not vote the party line?
To be sure, there are not currently 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to force a vote on the House-passed bill. But the press seems to be unaware that the chamber’s rules give repeal supporters a way to force a vote on "whether to vote" on the bill. And that should be more than enough to keep the bill alive.
As the Heritage Foundation's Brian Darling has helpfully explained, this would involve two steps for Senate Republicans (and any Democrats who join them):
1. Make sure the House bill is held at the Senate desk, as soon as it arrives from the House. Do this by having one senator (any senator) object to the second reading of the bill. This step is necessary to prevent Reid from referring the bill to committee and thus consigning it to parliamentary oblivion. (Senate Rule 14.)
2. Next, at some opportune moment, present Reid with a cloture petition signed by at least 16 Senators, which, two days after being filed, will force the full Senate to vote on whether to shut off debate and proceed to consider the repeal bill. (Senate Rule 22.)
Once that’s done, the Senate repeal debate will begin in earnest. If repeal supporters don’t secure cloture (it takes 60 votes to win), they will at least have put senators on record on the issue and set the stage for future such votes, closer to the election. If, however, repeal supporters prevail on this important procedural vote, then the Senate will be forced to take up the repeal bill itself.
That would be a huge win, shattering the myth that voting on full repeal was merely a symbolic gesture by the House.
Of course, with 60 votes in hand, repeal supporters should theoretically be able to get the bill out of the Senate. That scenario -- in which 13 Democrats vote "yes" on the House-passed bill, joining all 47 Republicans in doing so -- is not impossible, though it is certainly improbable right now, given how adamant most of the 53 Senate Democrats have been about clinging to their party's takeover of health care.
Still, there is hope, because ultimately Harry Reid cannot prevent a vote, which means he cannot deny the truth about this hugely unpopular law. Until then, the Tea Party grassroots will be working hard to pave the way for that Senate vote. We’ll also be working with congressional repeal supporters to advancing partial repeal measures and a series of “replace” bills. We’re not stopping until we get full repeal to the White House.
Dean Clancy is FreedomWorks' Legislative Counsel & Vice President, Health Care Policy.