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With pizza and Red Bull, Senate settles in for a long battle over Obamacare

Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats might not be able to stop Republicans from tearing up President Barack Obama's signature health care law, but they were seeking late Wednesday to make it as uncomfortable as possible.

Taking advantage of an arcane Senate tradition known as a "vote-a-rama," party leaders were prepared to go late into the night to force Republicans to take votes on popular provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, warning that the party could spark chaos by repealing the legislation that has extended health insurance to millions.

"If Republicans go forward with this plan, they may mollify their base, but they will ostracize and hurt the American people, and ultimately lose in the court of public opinion," said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

The late-night voting marathon came as some Republicans have expressed unease with the speed of the repeal, especially because the party has been unable to agree on a replacement.

The votes to amend the budget resolution that Republicans plan to use to repeal the health care act are purely symbolic, but Democrats sought to use them to draw sharp contrasts between the political parties, and in some cases to exploit Republican divisions.

To that end, Democrats sought to put Republican fiscal hawks in a box, filing amendments to the budget resolution that would force them to vote against cost-cutting measures that they traditionally would support. The Senate earlier this week rejected a change to the budget resolution proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. who said it would have balanced the federal budget over five years.

The budget resolution currently says the "appropriate levels of the public debt" would rise from the current $20 trillion to $29.1 trillion in 10 years, but Republican leaders say the numbers in the resolution are meaningless because they don't include the effect of repealing the health care law. That would come later, the measure's sponsor, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., told senators as debate began Wednesday.

"This bill has budget numbers reflective of where we are, not where we'd like to be," Enzi said.

That will happen later, Republican leaders say, noting the resolution is only a first step in repeal and requires only 51 Senate votes to advance, instead of the 60 usually needed to limit debate.

Several Republicans who were worried about the political perils of a rapid repeal planned to offer an amendment that would push the deadline for delivering the plan to repeal to March 3, rather than Jan. 27, a week after President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

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