Washington – Congress has taken the first step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act, and Sen. Chris Murphy on Thursday was on the front lines of Democratic efforts to stop, or at least slow, the process.
“There is a cruelty to this enthusiasm for immediate repeal that is a little bit hard to understand,” Murphy said in a speech on the Senate floor. “It’s really hard to understand.”
His effort was shut down on a party-line vote, but Murphy and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine launched the first legislative shot over the bow of the Republican efforts to eliminate the ACA.
The budget resolution, which the House and Senate hope to approve before Inauguration Day Jan. 20, includes “reconciliation instructions” that enable Congress to repeal key elements of the ACA with a simple Senate majority, avoiding a Democratic filibuster.
That means Republicans will only need 50 of their 52 members in the Senate, and a bare majority in the House, to repeal the ACA – or at least parts of it.
Murphy told the story of Jonathan Miller, a constituent who suffers from cystic fibrosis and is “on a whole suite of medications.”
For Miller, who secured health coverage under the ACA, “health care is the number-one priority,” Murphy said.
As part of their defense of the ACA, Democrats plan to tell stories about the experiences of people whose lives have been saved or improved by the law.
Murphy was not able to persuade a single Republican senator to support his amendment.
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., raised a point of order saying the amendment was “corrosive to the purpose of the budget resolution,” and it was not germane. That led to a vote to waive Enzi’s point of order, which failed 48-52.
Reconciliation can only be used to pass bills that affect spending and revenue. That means only the ACA’s insurance subsidies, Medicaid expansion, tax increases, and its mandate to purchase coverage — can be dismantled through reconciliation.
The budget resolution also includes language instructing four committees, two in the House and two in the Senate, to draft legislation that would repeal the ACA.
The committees involved in the effort are the House Energy and Commerce, House Ways and Means, Senate Finance, and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (ELP) committees, which have been given three weeks to complete their work.
Murphy is a member of the HELP Committee and Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, sits on the Ways and Means panel.
Republicans say they will delay the effective date of their repeal bill to avoid disrupting coverage and to provide time to develop alternatives to the ACA.
But there is no agreement over how long the delay should last – some want the transition period to last two years, others prefer four.