Update: The U.S. House of Representatives just approved a budget resolution that could make the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act possible. The measure was originally presented and approved by the Senate on early Thursday morning. Ahead, we explain what the Senate vote really meant and how it will shape the future of Obamacare. If you want to know what will happen if the ACA is repealed and how will it impact you, click here. This story was originally published on January 12, 2017.
By now, you've probably seen #SaveACA trending on social media, or you've read the news that something happened with Obamacare. Last night, the Senate voted on a resolution that is being viewed as the GOP's first concrete step in the process of repealing Obamacare. They did this during a late-night "vote-a-rama" — i.e., when legislators try to quickly pass a series of measures during sessions that last until the wee hours of the morning. But unless you are a political science whiz or someone obsessed with legislation, the language and messaging around all this can seem vague and confusing. If you don't understand what the hell is going on in Congress, we're here to help. Ahead, a breakdown of what happened last night and what it means for the ACA going forward.
First of all, is Obamacare done?Not yet. Despite last night's events, the Republican-led Congress and the Trump administration have a long journey ahead if they want to get rid of the program.
Okay, so what was last night's vote about?The Senate voted and approved a budget measure that will clear the way for a thing called reconciliation. Through this type of bill, they can repeal most of Obamacare's reforms, and would only need the support of 51 senators (a majority) instead of the traditional threshold of 60 votes most legislation needs to pass.
So, is Obamacare going to be killed just like that?Not exactly. Reconciliation is easier to pass and it's the most direct way to overturn the ACA, as long as Congress has a little help from President-elect Donald Trump through executive actions. (This is one of his campaign promises, but right now the GOP and Trump are at odds about the "repeal and replace" timeline. More on that here.) However, the problem with using this method is that there are restrictions on its content: Reconciliation can only be tied to legislation related to the issues of debt, spending, and certain types of tax. This puts Republican leaders in a pickle, because they have yet to figure out what their reconciliation bill will look like in order to then work out how to repeal Obamacare. They gave themselves until January 27 to figure out how to work the legislation out.
That seems like a massive headache. What are the benefits of reconciliation?This is where you've got to give credit to the GOP. Reconciliation bills can't be subjected to filibusters, so that will prohibit Democrats from blocking or delaying the repeal of Obamacare. This type of bill also has a limited scope of amendments. And that may present a problem for future legislators if they want to reverse the reconciliation bill in order to stop the repeal, or who might want to make changes to it. (We know, it's evil but quite brilliant.)
What happens now?The budget measure still needs to go through the House, which is expected to vote on Friday. After that, Congress will have to figure out what the reconciliation bill will look like before they start working on the repeal and replace legislation. And according to the GOP, that process could take months — if not years.