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Senate Approves First Step Toward Repealing Obamacare in Late-Night Session

Senate takes 1st major step toward Obamacare repeal, House plans to vote Friday 0:26

The U.S. Senate took the first major step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act after a marathon voting session that started Wednesday evening and extended into early Thursday.

The vote does not repeal President Obama's signature achievement, but it does set the stage for Republicans to clear the first procedural hurdle for repeal of the massive health care law. The bill will now go to the House of Representatives for a vote expected to take place on Friday.

"The Senate just took an important step toward repealing and replacing Obamacare by passing the resolution that provides the legislative tools necessary to actually repeal this failed law while we move ahead with smarter health care policies," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

Democrats who opposed repealing Obamacare staged a protest during the vote, breaking with procedural rules by attempting to orally dedicate their votes to people they say would be harmed by repealing Obamacare.

The action came at the end of Wednesday's late night of consecutive votes as part of the body's annual — or sometimes biannual — vote-a-rama. It’s the first step of a two-part process to fulfill Donald Trump's campaign promise (and Congressional Republicans' longstanding vow) to dismantle the health care law.

The all-nighter was powered by pizza deliveries to the Senate floor. Indiana Republican Rep. Todd Young handed out goodie baskets filled with popcorn and Mountain Dew to reporters in the Senate Press Gallery to kick off the night.

Image: US Senate works after hours on a series of votes on amendments to the budget bill before the Senate
Senate staffers arrive with pizzas during an after hours series of votes on amendments to the budget bill. EPA

The vote followed a timeline laid out by President-elect Trump for the repeal and replacement of the health care law, also known as Obamacare, in his first news conference in nearly six months earlier Wednesday.

Image: Brad Owen
Outgoing Lt. Governor Brad Owen, center, waits to lead the Senate through the Capitol to the House chambers for a joint session of the Legislature. Elaine Thompson / AP

He said that his administration would release a plan to repeal and replace the health care law "almost simultaneously." He is hanging the timeline on the confirmation of Rep. Tom Price, his nominee for secretary of the Health and Human Services Department.

"The easiest thing would be to let [Obamacare] implode in 2017, and believe me, we’d get pretty much whatever we wanted, but it’d take a long time. We are going to be submitting, as soon as our secretary is approved, almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter, a plan," Trump said. "It will be repeal and replace. It will be essentially simultaneously. It will be various segments, you understand, but will most likely be on the same day or the same week, but probably the same day, could be the same hour."

“Very complicated stuff,” he added.

Price, the current head of the House Budget Committee, has worked on health care repeal in the past. He wrote the repeal bill in 2015 that passed the House and the Senate but was vetoed by President Obama. A House Republican leadership aide said that they are working closely with Price on health care as he prepares to transition to the administration.

The aide also insisted that there’s no daylight between Congressional Republicans on the expedited timeline to repeal and replace ACA.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence gave more details when asked about ACA repeal between meetings with senators on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

“We're working with legislative leaders at this very moment to begin to craft legislation that will repeal the most corrosive elements of Obamacare — the individual mandate, the taxes, the penalties — but at the same time, moving separate legislation that will allow us to introduce the kind of reforms in American health care that'll lower the cost of health insurance without growing the size of government,” Pence said.

The House aide cautioned, however, that a replacement won’t be a comprehensive bill and will be done in parts.

House GOP Taking on Obamacare: Repeal and Replace 6:28

A majority of the ACA can be repealed through the budget gimmick known as reconciliation, which only needs the support of a 51 senators — an easier threshold than the 60 votes that most other legislation needs. But Republican leaders are working to figure out what can be replaced through reconciliation. While reconciliation is easier to pass, it has restrictions on its content. It can only pertain to the debt and spending.

The actual vote to repeal the ACA will come after legislation is worked out. Republicans gave themselves a deadline of Jan 27.