Inside the health care amendments from the Senate's 'vote-a-rama'

By Heather Drost, senior editor

Senators had a late night last night, casting their final votes at around 1:30 a.m. to approve a budget resolution (S.Con.Res.3) that sets the stage for Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

But before that final vote, senators had to take part in their annual "vote-a-rama."

What is the vote-a-rama

Budget resolutions, which serve as a blueprint for Congressional appropriations bills each year, must adhere to special rules. The resolution is passed by both the House and Senate but does not go to the president and therefore does not hold the force of law. This year, Republican lawmakers have vowed to use the resolution to set the stage for later legislation that would repeal and replace the ACA.

Senators can propose an unlimited number of amendments that are considered with little debate, a process referred to as the "vote-a-rama." Senators leading up to last night's vote proposed more than 180 amendments—none of which passed. The amendments needed 60 votes to pass.

Amendments

Health care-related amendments ranged from prescription drug access to maintaining current coverage levels. Let's take a closer look at some of those amendments.  

Some other amendments that made it to the floor include one by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) that would have allowed young adults to remain on their parents' coverage until age 26. Ahead of the vote, Baldwin said, "We had in this nation an uninsurance crisis among young people" before the ACA. She added, "We have an opportunity to protect young people through my amendment."

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) sponsored several amendments, including one that sought to protect U.S. residents who gained coverage under the ACA's Medicaid expansion.

Another key amendment that made headlines earlier this week, which sought to delay the deadline for Republicans to produce an ACA replacement plan, was ultimately withdrawn by its sponsors. Bill co-sponsor Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that Republicans withdrew their amendment after "thoughtful" conversations among GOP senators about how to repeal and replace the ACA. 

Looking ahead

While some observers and lawmakers question the efficiency of the Senate's vote-a-rama, the process does provide some insight into lawmakers' legislative priorities for the rest of the year.

For instance, the New York Times' Thomas Kaplan notes that the amendments "can be used to provide grist for campaign ads, giving each party the opportunity to force the opposing party's members to take votes on politically delicate topics."

Further, the evening does set up Republicans to begin repealing the ACA without Democrats' support: The budget resolution provides for a reconciliation process that allows certain bills related to spending and revenue to be passed by a simple majority of at least 51 votes, without being subject to a filibuster. Republicans lack a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate but hold 52 seats in the chamber.

What remains to be seen is how Republicans will find enough votes to pass a replacement plan—whenever such a plan is released.