Florida Sen. Marco Rubio joined 49 Republicans to vote in favor of proceeding with Senate debate on an Obamacare repeal bill, a critical step in the effort by Republicans to repeal Obamacare.
Rubio had been expected to vote in favor. He announced on July 13 that his concerns with the repeal process had been addressed by Senate leadership.
“The sooner we get to the floor and start the debate on the floor in front of the American people, the better off it’s going to be for everyone,” Rubio said on July 13.
Two moderate Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against proceeding with debate, meaning Rubio’s vote was essential in passing the measure. Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie in favor of proceeding with debate on repeal.
The 51-50 vote means that the Senate will now begin debate on a proposal to repeal Obamacare, although it is not clear what specific bill the Republicans decide to move forward on. It is expected that a bill that repeals Obamacare without a replacement and a bill that keeps portions of Obamacare will be debated, but if the various proposals increase the federal deficit after 10 years, a process typically determined by the Congressional Budget Office, at least 60 senators must vote in favor.
But the Senate can pass a bill with a simple majority instead of 60 votes if the Senate cobbles together a plan with elements that do not increase the deficit after 10 years, something dubbed a “skinny repeal” plan. Republicans only have 52 Senate seats compared to Democrats’ 48, so a bill that requires 60 votes would fail.
Rubio said two weeks ago that he wanted to ensure more Medicaid payments to Florida hospitals that serve a large number of low-income people, an option to choose catastrophic coverage plans with low monthly payments but high deductibles, and flexible Medicaid caps for public-health emergencies like Zika.
After a closed-door meeting with Republican leadership on July 13 Rubio emerged to say he would vote in favor of debate on a repeal bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ended months of behind-the-scenes negotiations and deal-making efforts by putting the motion on the floor Tuesday, forcing Republican senators like Rubio to either vote in favor of debating a repeal package or turn their backs on a long-running campaign promise for many Republicans.
Rubio has repeatedly said that he was elected in 2010 and reelected in 2016 on a platform of repealing Obamacare, and that he intends to follow through on his campaign promise.
The vote to proceed allows the Senate to consider potential repeal packages, including a plan championed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul that would fully repeal the legislation and a plan that narrowly passed the Republican-controlled House in the spring.
“I’m glad we’re moving towards a clean repeal,” Paul said. “I think we’ll vote on two big alternatives. One is the Senate leadership bill, which includes a large insurance bailout fund, and then we’ll vote on a clean repeal similar to the 2015 repeal. And I think then we have to go from there once we decide what happens.”
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is opposed to the Obamacare repeal effort, and all Senate Democrats are united in opposition.