This is not over. Despite numerous pronouncements of TrumpCare’s demise, Senator McConnell managed to buy off enough Republican Senators to get to 50 votes on the “motion to proceed (MTP),” with Mike Pence to break the tie. The MTP was a key procedural vote, but now that McConnell has bribed his caucus into starting “debate,” he faces yet another tough hurdle: he needs to get 50 Senators to actually vote for “the bill” itself.
Usually a vote for the MTP signals support for the underlying bill. But Senators literally do not know which bill they’re taking a final vote on, and many of them have come out against some previous iteration of the bill. This is far from over.
Here’s what to expect next.
“Time for Debate.” Democratic and Republican Senators will take turns going to the Senate floor to give speeches. This is what they mean when they say they’ll have “time for debate”—except it’s not a debate at all. They won’t have the benefit of complete CBO scores on final legislative text (because they won’t know which legislative text is the final legislative text) and they won’t even have final guidance from the Parliamentarian as to which provisions conform to the Senate’s rules.
“Vote-a-Rama.” One of the rules that goes along with using the reconciliation process in the Senate is that there has to be unlimited time to consider amendments. Senators call this “vote-a-rama.” This is when we expect McConnell to call up various versions of the bill: full repeal, Senate TrumpCare, or maybe even other lesser-known contenders. Thursday is the day when we’ll finally find out what exactly the Senate is voting on—but we won’t have a CBO score on it and likely won’t have final guidance from the Senate Parliamentarian either.
Final Vote. There will be a final vote either very late Thursday night or Friday morning. Though this could change, it looks like McConnell is leaning toward a “lowest common denominator strategy,” meaning the bare minimum Republican senators will agree to. That would, McConnell hopes, set up him to go to a “conference committee” where the House and Senate jointly meet to reconcile differences between their respective bills.
Here’s our opportunity.
The rest of this week is critical, because the clock is now ticking in the Senate. We don’t know how much time is on the clock, but the countdown has begun. We can still win this.
It goes without saying that both Democrats and Republicans should oppose “final passage” of the mystery bill. Whatever Mitch McConnell comes up with to get 50 votes will be a nightmare for any state. But he may try to blow up the Senate rules—again. That’s where your Democratic Senators come in.
As you know, Republicans are using a process called budget reconciliation, or just “reconciliation,” to pass TrumpCare. Reconciliation allows Congress to pass legislation with only 51 votes in the Senate, but it comes with major strings attached. Those strings are the “Byrd Rule,” named for Senator Robert Byrd. Prior to consideration of a reconciliation bill, provisions must go through the Byrd Bath (which we explain in detail here.) The Senate Parliamentarian plays referee here, determining whether certain provisions meet the standard for having a “budgetary effect.” But these calls can be overruled by the Presiding Officer of the Senate—who is always a Republican Senator or Vice President Pence.
That means Democrats should be on watch for any provision that doesn’t pass the Byrd rules included in the TrumpCare bill (and there are at least seven of them). And Republicans should respect decades of precedent instead of changing the Senate rules—again—to jam their TrumpCare bill through.
Asks for Democrats:
- Democrats need to raise a “point of order” against any provision or amendment that breaks the Byrd rule.
- Democrats need to be ready to offer as many amendments as possible to delay the final vote as long as possible, if that’s the best response to Republicans’ plans.
Asks for Republicans:
- Tell your Republican Senator to vote against “final passage” of the Republican health care bill. Every version of this bill would be devastating and no Senator should vote for it.
- Ask that your Republican Senator uphold the rules of the by following the guidance of the Parliamentarian.
SAMPLE CALL DIALOGUE
Caller: Hello! My name is [name] and I am calling from [part of state]. I want to thank Senator [ ] for continuing to oppose the TrumpCare bill. I’ve heard that because this legislation is a reconciliation bill, it means there are certain provisions that would not be permitted under long-standing rules of the Senate. I’m concerned that Republican senators will blow up the rules, and overrule the Senate Parliamentarian. What will the senator do to ensure the Byrd Rule is followed?
Staffer: The Senator is monitoring this process very closely to ensure bill does not pass.
Caller: While this is good to hear, I’m concerned that when push comes to shove, the Republican Senators will blow up the rules in order to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I want to know that Senator [ ] will do everything in his/her power to save healthcare for 22 million people. That includes raising a point of order against provisions the Senate Parliamentarian says breaks the rules. I want the Senator to work with his/her colleagues to ensure this is no avenue for Republicans to change the rules of the game so they can pass TrumpCare. Please tell the Senator that I will be watching his/her actions closely.
Staffer: I’ll let the Senator you know your thoughts, and please know Senator [ ] is doing everything he/she can to defend the Affordable Care Act.
Caller: Thank you. I hope everything he/she can includes raising a point of order against every questionable provision of the bill.
(IF YOU LIVE IN ME, WV, NV, AK, or OH CLICK HERE)
Caller: Hello! My name is [name] and I am calling from [part of state]. Has Senator [ ] taken a position on the latest version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act?
Staffer: The senator is following the debate closely and will make a decision once time for debate ends.
Caller: That’s terrible. This bill will be terrible for [state]. Thousands of people from our state will lose their coverage, costs will go up, and people with pre-existing conditions will lose their protections. I know the Senator wants to repeal Obamacare, but this replacement will hurt millions of people across the country.
Staffer: Obamacare is imploding and premiums are skyrocketing. The Senator has to act to protect Americans from its utter failure.
Caller: That’s not true. Premiums are rising at lower levels than before the ACA was passed, and even when premiums rise, so do the tax credits to help people afford insurance. That’s not how it will work under this bill, and it will mean people go without the care they need.
Staffer: I’m sorry we disagree.
Caller: Well hopefully we can at least agree to uphold the longstanding rules of the Senate. I’ve heard that because this legislation is a reconciliation bill, it means there are certain provisions that the Senate Parliamentarian says can’t go through under long-standing rules of the Senate. I’m concerned that Senator [ ] will ignore the Parliamentarian, and ignore decades of Senate precedent, in order to jam this bill through. Will Senator [ ] follow the guidance of the Parliamentarian?
Staffer: The Senator believes in following the established rules of the Senate.
Caller: While that’s good to hear, I’m concerned that when push comes to shove, the Senator will support ignoring the rules in order to repeal the Affordable Care Act and strip healthcare away from 22 million people. I want to be clear: if the Senator has to decide whether or not to ignore the Parliamentarian’s guidance on provisions that violate the Byrd Rule, I want him/her to follow the Parliamentarian’s guidance. The rules of the Senate are too important to blow up over a political vote on the Affordable Care Act. The other problem is that the Senate is voting on a final bill without a complete CBO score. That is terrible and it means that Senator [ ] is voting without all the facts.
Staffer: We can’t trust CBO anyway. I’ll be sure to let the Senator know of your thoughts.
Caller: Yes, please do. And once the Senator upholds Senate precedent, please tell Senator [ ] to vote no on final passage.