As the Senate prepares to take up debating and voting on the newly-amended version of the American Health Care Act, or AHCA for short, Democratic members of the body are readying their efforts to delay or block the bill’s passage. The bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives in May of this year, would repeal and replace many key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
At present, the caucus breakdown in the Senate stands at 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats, meaning that the Democrats will be unable to guarantee a refusal to pass the bill by controlling a simple majority vote. Instead, they plan to use the Senate’s complex set of rules and procedures to delay and, if possible, block the bill. In order to come to a vote, the bill will first have to be debated extensively, a process the Democrats plan to control as long as possible. Using filibuster tactics, party members say they will speak out against the AHCA bill for as long as they possibly can. This process began on Monday night, when Senate Democrats used the held floor to lambast the new healthcare plan.
One significant point in the Democrats’ favor, given their numerical inability to block the bill by sheer voting numbers, is the fact that Republicans are also staunchly divided on the issue of its passage. With a majority of only 52 senators, the Republicans can afford only two defections from the party line if the bill is to pass. In the event of a tie, the final vote would be given to Vice President Mike Pence, who has already shown himself more than willing to use his power as a tiebreaker to tow his party’s line.
Thus far, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky appears to be the strongest holdout on the GOP side, having been referred to as “irretrievably gone” on the issue by his colleague Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is a leading figure in the push to secure 51 votes for the bill. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has also expressed doubts about the bill, though has yet to be written off by the Republican majority.
Part of the problem for Republicans, according to many news sources, is the fact that the structuring of the Senate’s changes to the original House bill has taken place entirely in secret. Neither Democrats nor the American public know yet precisely what will be in the final version of the bill when it is presented for a vote on the Senate floor. This lack of transparency has caused a general backlash among voters on both the left and the right, lending weight to the Democrats’ efforts to block the bill.
Whether a procedural halt combined with public pressure will be enough to kill the American Health Care Act in the Senate remains to be seen. Already, thanks to their low majority, Republicans have had to turn to the procedural resort known as reconciliation in order to have any chance of passing their bill. If even two more Republicans defect from voting for the bill, the Democrats will be able to put together a voting victory when the AHCA comes to the floor.