The Senate voted 45-55 Wednesday not to repeal ObamaCare with a two-year delay to replace it, and the only consolation for Republicans is the clarity of seeing who voted to preserve and protect rather than repeal and replace.

Congress had passed and sent to Barack Obama’s desk a similar measure in 2015, with support from every current Senate Republican except Susan Collins of Maine. This time seven voted no, including Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who aren’t up for re-election until 2022 and 2020, respectively. If you’re going to renege on your political promises, better to do it early, we suppose.

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Obamacare gave the federal government a heretofore unprecedented power: the power to force us to buy health insurance irrespective of our desire to do so. Republicans, for both moral and economic reasons, oppose this mandate. The framers of the Constitution never envisioned granting Congress the power to force people to buy a privately delivered financial service. There are also important economic reasons to oppose Obamacare’s mandate. Gross premiums for individually purchased coverage have doubled over the past four years under Obamacare. But the authors of Obamacare don’t need to care about whether they’ve made coverage costlier, because they’re forcing you to buy it anyway. Without a mandate, insurers would have to do what businesses have to do in every other sector of the economy: design products that you voluntarily want to buy because they represent a good value for you. Under Obamacare, they don’t have to.

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Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did the seemingly impossible and got the votes he needed to proceed to consideration of the House-passed plan for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At this point, it’s hard to tell what exactly will happen in the coming days, but there is one thing that is fairly certain: if the current Republican effort succeeds in passing a bill, the legislation will make the individual insurance market less stable than it is under current law.

The problem for Senate Republicans is that their principal policy goal is incompatible with the process they are using — budget reconciliation — to pass their legislation.

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Louisiana Republican John Kennedy cracked to Politico this week that “the sight of the gallows focuses the mind,” and perhaps that explains why after months of group therapy Senate Republicans finally voted Tuesday to open debate on repealing ObamaCare. Whatever the impetus, the vote kept GOP reform hopes alive and may have saved the GOP Congress.

The 51-50 vote—with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie—was as close as it gets but vindicates Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to force Senators to be accountable. Maine Senator Susan Collins’s defection was expected, and at least she was consistent with her opposition to repeal in 2015.

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The Senate on Wednesday rejected a measure that would have repealed major parts of the Affordable Care Act but would not have provided a replacement, signaling that the “clean repeal” bill that conservatives have embraced cannot get through Congress.

The vote, 45-55, underscored the bind that Republican leaders have found themselves in. Seven Republicans voted against the measure — Senators Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, John McCain of Arizona, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — showing that repealing the health law without an immediate replacement lacks crucial support among Republicans.

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Portions of the Republican bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare will require 60 votes for passage, the Senate parliamentarian said Tuesday evening. The parliamentarian has advised senators that two provisions could be stripped out, according to a document released Tuesday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee.

The provisions in question would allow insurers to charge older people premiums up to five times as high as what they charge younger people — which AARP has called an “age tax” — and would allow small businesses to establish “association health plans” that could be sold across state lines. That aspect has been championed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

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Senate Republicans voted to advance to floor debate on their efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Vice President Mike Pence cast the tiebreaking vote. In a dramatic moment, Sen. John McCain returned from Arizona to applause from fellow senators. He cast a necessary Republican vote for the motion after two GOP senators — Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski — sided with all Democrats in opposition.
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Following a week of high-level negotiations among GOP senators, Republican leadership is planning a Tuesday vote on the motion to proceed to the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) — the vehicle for their health care reform efforts. The process has been shrouded in confusion and uncertainty, as it still remains unclear what legislation Senate leaders ultimately hope to move forward. And while knowing what’s in the Senate bill may be, as Senate Whip John Cornyn said, a “luxury we don’t have,” it’s worth acknowledging that there’s still a narrow path towards passage.

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The larger stakes in the ObamaCare fight are whether Republicans can be a governing party. They can win elections but not since the early 2000s have they showed they can pass a major reform through Congress. They blew it the last time they controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in 2005-2006. They’ve already wasted six months on health care in this Congress with nothing to show but division and discord.

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On July 21, all eight former directors of the Congressional Budget Office sent a letter to Congress defending the integrity and professionalism of CBO. But even institutions with integrity can occasionally be wrong. CBO’s score of the House and Senate healthcare bills is a case in point.

The former directors did not comment on, much less defend, those specific CBO scores. They merely objected “to recent attacks on the integrity and professionalism of the agency and on the agency’s role in the legislative process.” They could not defend the scores of the Republican plans, because they, like all other Americans, cannot see the underlying models and assumptions.

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