(“Regular order” refers to the Senate’s traditional procedural rules, including the requirement for 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.)
All but five members of the 48-member Democratic caucus signed the letter; missing are Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), all of whom are up for reelection in 2018 in states that President Trump won easily. Five more 2018 Democrats represent states that Trump won by single digits; by signaling that they’ll block “phase three,” they essentially would allow the most at-risk Democrats to cast votes against the ACA while ensuring that the bills failed to break a filibuster.
That cuts against an argument House Republicans hoped to make this week. With a little fanfare, they introduced and passed bills that they knew could sail through the House, and cited them as proof that the third phase was possible.
But the bill’s Republican critics in the Senate say that no phase three bill would get past a filibuster — similar to how the 2013 repeal effort saw “piecemeal” health-care bills pass the House and die in the Senate. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), referring to the three phases as “buckets,” referred to the third phase as the “sucker’s bucket.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) brushed off the entire “phase” strategy as “spin.” And the 43 Senate holdouts are now on record against anything the GOP might try to get through regular order.
“We will oppose efforts to eliminate the ACA’s essential health benefits that ensure insurance companies cover maternity care, emergency services, substance misuse and mental health treatment, prescription drugs, pediatric dental and vision care and other vital services,” write the Senate Democrats. “We will also oppose any efforts to lessen our constituents’ access to basic preventative and primary care.”