Senate Pushes on Healthcare in Unprecedented Manner

McConnell Health Win McNamee Getty Images

(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Senate is moving forward with attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act this week. Senators from both sides of the aisle were unclear what they would even be voting on yesterday. This represents a new phase in the Senate’s decision-making process. This bill also has life or death consequences for millions of Americans. Time is short to let your Senators know whether you support this action or not.

What Happened:

Yesterday, the Senate voted to begin debate on repealing the ACA by a vote of 51-50. Vice President Pence voted to break the tie. Today, they are in the midst of 20 hours allotted for debate and amendments. The first amendment, the BCRA, was defeated in a vote last night of 43-57. These acronyms can be difficult to track, but BCRA is a version of the Senate/McConnell bill with some slight adjustments. The version last night included the Cruz amendment and some taxes on high income earners.

Both Vox and The New York Times have quick graphic flowcharts to break down the Senate’s procedures this week.


The Coverage:

Major media outlets across the political spectrum have let healthcare fallen off their front pages in recent days. The Senate vote to proceed to begin debate yesterday changed that. The movement sparked outrage because it was unclear what the Senate was even voting on. Some sources, mostly liberal (Vox, Slate, Huffpost, MSNBC), were quick to point this out. These same sources have provided the most comprehensive coverage of the bill into today.

The decision to begin debate in this manner is unprecedented. Typically we think of amendments as minor adjustments to a bill already formed. In this case, the amendments were to become the main course. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY.) took advantage of the confusion and lull in media coverage to proceed. When bills are debated, nearly everybody knows what is in them. McConnell flipped the playbook by putting the cart before the horse. He had 51 Republicans vote to open debate on the House version of the bill. However, the amendments debated and voted on this week would ultimately become the meat of the entire bill.

Larger news organizations like The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and Fox News focused solely on the fallout of the vote as they had largely ignored the build-up. However, the follow-up stories had very little to say about how stakeholders outside of the Senate would be impacted or how they felt about the Senate bills.

Here is how the AARP feels:


Here is how the American Medical Association feels:

These are two non-partisan bodies that have made unequivocal stances, but major media sources and Republican Senate leaders neglected to acknowledge them.

Attracting particular attention was the return of Senator John McCain following a cancer diagnosis. He arrived to a standing ovation, cast a vote in favor of beginning debate, then gave a speech decrying the division in politics. Liberal news sources pointed out that his rhetoric did not match his action for supporting a bill passed in confusion with the support of solely Republicans.

Fox News gave scant coverage to yesterday’s action. But they did cover McCain’s speech, casting it as a triumphant return to Washington and sensible plea for civility. The Fox lede described his remarks as “powerful” and the article covering him (and by proxy, Senate healthcare) was mostly a series of quotations from his speech condemning gridlock. McCain also warned that he would “not vote for the bill as it is today.” Vox pointed out that he voted in favor of the BCRA amendment that night.

Today, breaking news has largely relegated the ongoing debate in the Senate. The New York Times and CNN have featured healthcare front and center. The Washington Post is covering Donald Trump’s order to ban transgender people from serving in the military. Trump tweeted that decision this morning.  The Washington Post is following healthcare beneath this headline story.  Fox News is also covering the transgender ban. They have buried their healthcare coverage to just a bullet point link beneath their main stories.



We are focusing on healthcare because any legislative action on healthcare will impact millions of families via medical coverage and millions more via reshaping 1/6 of the US economy.

1. Does anybody benefit from the decision to begin debate? Beginning debate was a way to move forward on a highly unpopular bill. If Mitch McConnell could have moved forward on a bill that people were informed about, he would have. The bill lacks the support of the AARP, the AMA, all Democratic Senators, and a handful of Republican Senators.

2. Is it better to debate bills when everyone has more information or less? This is what is being challenged with this unprecedented tactic. If a bill is passed through the Senate, then McConnell will be more likely to repeat this tactic in the future.

3. Where can you apply pressure to make a difference right now? The debate is underway right now, so the best place to apply pressure would going right to the Senate. Call your Senators immediately to let them know what you think. Whether you support the bill and the procedure or not, this is an important time to weigh in.

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