WASHINGTON â€” The Senate voted Thursday to repeal key provisions of Obamacare and strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, approving legislation that is sure to be vetoed by President Obama.
Senators voted 52-47 to pass the bill. Two moderate Republicans â€” Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois â€” joined Democrats in opposing the bill. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was absent.
The legislation still must be approved by the House, which passed a different version in October. The White House said Wednesday that Obama will veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
Democrats say the 2010 Affordable Care Act â€” better known as Obamacare â€” has helped 17.6 million Americans gain medical coverage and has stopped insurance companies from refusing to insure patients with pre-existing conditions.
“Everybody knows (repeal) is a gesture in futility,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., before the vote. “Let’s move on from repeal and start making the Affordable Care Act work even better for the American people.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Obamacare has raised health care costs, limited patients’ ability to choose their doctors, and hurt the already struggling middle class.
“I think Democrats have a particular responsibility to the millions their law has hurt already to help pass (the repeal),” McConnell said. “I think the president has a particular responsibility to the millions his law has hurt already to then sign it.”
Senate Republicans have tried more than a dozen times before to pass legislation to repeal Obamacare, but they could not get the 60 votes needed to overcome Democratic filibusters. In Thursday’s vote, Republicans were able to prevent a Democratic filibuster by using a budget procedure known as reconciliation that allowed them to pass the bill with a simple majority.
The bill would gut key sections of the health care law, including the mandate for individuals to buy health insurance and for employers with more than 50 workers to provide it. It eliminates all fines for people and companies that fail to comply with the mandate.
It also would eliminate federal subsidies to about 6 million low- and moderate-income Americans buying their own insurance. And it would halt Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid for the poor, which has been adopted by more than 30 states. Those two provisions would take effect in two years, giving Republicans until after the 2016 election to come up with a new plan to replace the existing program.
Senators voted 90-10 to pass an amendment by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., that would repeal taxes set to be imposed in 2018 on expensive “Cadillac” insurance plans provided by employers. Those taxes are supposed to be used to help pay for medical coverage for uninsured people. Critics said the taxes would hurt workers by reducing the benefits their employers provide or raising the amount of money that employees must pay for their coverage.
The bill also would strip federal funding for one year from Planned Parenthood, which has been under attack by conservatives since anti-abortion activists released undercover videos earlier this year allegedly showing group officials talking about selling tissue from aborted fetuses. Planned Parenthood has denied making any profit from the sale of fetal tissue. The group announced in October that it would immediately stop taking reimbursement for supplying the tissue for medical research.
“It’s time to take a stand for the rights of all human life, including the unborn, and start doing more to protect the well-being of women, mothers, and their families,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Senators blocked efforts by Democrats and by Collins to remove the language targeting Planned Parenthood.
“It seems implausible that less than a week after a tragic shooting at the Planned Parenthood health center in Colorado Springs some in Washington chose politics over compassion,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She was referring to last Friday’s shooting in which a gunman killed three people, including a police officer.