By JAKE ZUCKERMAN
CHARLSTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate forwarded an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, fueled by a pivotal yes vote from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
Through a motion to proceed, the Senate will bring the bill to the floor, which will be subject to rapid-fire amendments and subsequent votes. Since stating that she opposes a repeal of the law, also known as Obamacare, without a viable replacement, Capito has drawn heavy fire from the political right for listing away from pulling the plug on the ACA.
Following the roll call, Capito said she expects that the final Senate version will put more money into combating the worsening opioid epidemic and beefing up the Patient and State Stability Fund, which would soften the blow of some of the lost federal funding.
“I’ve been working with leadership and other members to make improvements, to make it to where I think [it] really will be helpful to West Virginians and help those who will probably need it the most, in terms of at the lower end of the economic scale,” she said.
The legislative track for the bill will be winding and open-ended. An unlimited amount of amendments can be added to the bill following 20 hours of debate. When asked if she would vote for a bill that could lead to 22 million more uninsured Americans by 2026 than under existing law, as the Congressional Budget Office has predicted in past versions of the ACA repeal plan, Capito said she probably would not, although it depends on what ends up in the legislation itself.
“I doubt it, but I don’t know, I don’t know until I see it,” she said. “I’m hoping I don’t have that option, because I don’t think it’s in the best interests of the country to add to the uninsured by 22 million people. That’s not my goal.”
She said it’s possible the Senate will produce a bill that will increase insurance enrollment in the United States, despite the CBO’s ominous predictions on earlier drafts.
“I think, with sufficient resources, that the numbers of those that would be covered in my state, and could be covered and receive coverage, and have more choices, could hopefully be as good or maybe better,” she said. “Maybe you don’t think that sounds like a believable
statement, but let’s have the debate, let’s see what comes up on the floor, let’s see what I vote for and what I vote against, and then we can make those determinations as we move through.”
All 48 Democrats in the Senate voted against the motion to proceed, along with Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as Senate president, broke the tie in a 51-50 vote.
Capito has made previous statements showing opposition to different versions of the bill. In June, she said she opposed a Senate rewrite of the bill that passed the House of Representatives. In early July, she said she opposed a potential amendment that would allow insurance providers to skirt certain minimum-coverage requirements created by Obamacare.
Central to all these dissents, Capito said the bills she reviewed cut Medicaid too deeply, do not provide enough funding to combat the opioid crisis and stingily walk back subsidies to help citizens cover their premiums and deductibles.
According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources website, 550,000 West Virginians receive health insurance through Medicaid, 170,966 of whom are enrolled through the program’s expansion from the ACA.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, about 35 protesters rallied outside Capito’s Charleston office in a last-ditch effort to convince Capito to nix the motion to proceed.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was among those who voted against the motion to proceed.
He said, in an emailed statement, that Tuesday’s vote came with no end game in mind.
“Make no mistake; the vote today was a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a plan to replace it,” he said. “There is no plan for the West Virginians in addiction treatment covered under expanded Medicaid; no plan for the seniors whose health care costs would become unaffordable; and no plan for the miner with black lung who wouldn’t be able to get the care that they need because their rural clinic had to shut down. They effectively voted to throw the most vulnerable West Virginians out into the cold.”
Pressure had been mounting on Capito, with activists and Senate Democrats stuck vying for her vote while conservative political action committees and Senate leadership pulled in the opposite direction.
For instance, the conservative Club for Growth recently built an “Obamacare Repeal Traitors” website, prominently featuring Capito and other defecting senators. Likewise, while speaking Monday at the Boy Scouts of America’s 2017 National Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, President Donald Trump called on Capito by name to vote yes on the motion to proceed.
“You better get Senator Capito to vote for it, you better get the other senators to vote for it,” he said. “It’s time. After seven years of saying ‘Repeal and replace Obamacare,’ we have a chance to now do it. They better do it. Hopefully, we’ll do it.”
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