U.S. Senate launches Obamacare repeal process, House to vote

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By Susan Cornwell | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON The Republican-led U.S. Congress,
under pressure from President-elect Donald Trump to move
quickly, took its first concrete step toward dismantling
Obamacare on Thursday as the Senate voted to instruct key
committees to draft legislation to repeal it.

Trump on Twitter congratulated the Senate for its 51-48 vote
in the early hours of Thursday, adding “now it’s onto the
House!” Only one Republican, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, joined Senate
Democrats in opposing the resolution.

The House of Representatives plans to vote on the measure on
Friday, Speaker Paul Ryan said, pushing ahead despite concerns
among some Republicans about launching a repeal before building
a consensus about how to replace the complicated and
far-reaching Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare.

Democrats accused Republicans of rushing forward to scrap
outgoing President Barack Obama’s signature legislative
accomplishment, a law that has enabled upwards of 20 million
previously uninsured Americans to obtain health coverage,
without yet having a firm replacement plan.

The resolution passed on Thursday instructs committees of
the House and Senate to draft repeal legislation by Jan. 27.
Both chambers will then need to approve the resulting
legislation before any repeal goes into effect.

Obamacare’s fate is a high-stakes political showdown between
Republicans and Democrats that potentially jeopardizes medical
coverage for millions of Americans and risks causing chaos in
the health insurance marketplace.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi vowed to fight. “I
think it’s easier to win a fight when something is going to be
taken away from you,” Pelosi said in an appearance with elderly
Americans who talked about how they had been helped by the law’s
provisions, including lower prescription drug costs.

Republicans have called Obamacare a federal government
overreach and have sought to undermine it in Congress and the
courts since it was passed by Democratic majorities in the House
and Senate in 2010.

They are aggressively pushing toward their goal of killing
Obamacare now that they will control Congress and the White
House once Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

Ryan, speaking to reporters just hours after the Senate
vote, said House Republicans would discuss options for replacing
Obamacare during an annual retreat at the end of this month in
Philadelphia.

Ryan said while Congress will take some replacement steps,
the incoming Trump administration will be able to act on its own
on some aspects, which he did not detail. Ryan said lawmakers
were working on dismantling Obamacare “in sync” with Trump.

“We’re not holding hard deadlines, only because we want to
get it right,” Ryan said, indicating it will take some time for
several House committees to work on replacement legislation.

‘NO IDEA’

Democrats mocked the Republican effort.

“They want to kill ACA but they have no idea how they are
going to bring forth a substitute proposal,” said Senator Bernie
Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with the
Democrats.

Indeed, some Republicans have expressed concern about the
party’s current strategy of pushing repeal without having a
consensus replacement plan ready.

Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from
Pennsylvania, has “major concerns” about the process, according
to a spokesman, fearing a repeal vote at the start diminishes
the leverage that may be needed to get some lawmakers to back a
replacement later.

Trump put new pressure on congressional Republicans on
Wednesday when he said Obamacare repeal and replacement should
happen “essentially simultaneously.” And an influential
conservative group, Heritage Action, late on Wednesday pressed
lawmakers to back the resolution.

Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said the replacement
effort will likely tackle drug pricing.

Democrats say Obamacare is working, enabling growing numbers
of Americans to get medical insurance and helping slow the rise
in healthcare spending. Republicans say the program is
collapsing and support giving states more control. The average
premium for a private insurance policy obtained through
Obamacare is set to rise 25 percent in 2017.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert and Richard
Cowan)



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