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Senate Vote-a-rama Focuses on Tough Health Amendments

The Senate kicks off the marathon voting session known as vote-a-rama at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, an event that will give Democrats the opportunity to score political points on health topics their GOP colleagues would rather avoid.

The vote-a-rama sets up a final vote, expected Thursday, on a budget resolution that takes the first step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act. The House is expected to take up the resolution before the end of the week. Once passed by both chambers, committees with jurisdiction will begin drafting legislation to repeal Obamacare.

Before that can happen, senators must address more than 100 amendments filed for the budget resolution, though it’s likely some of those will be withdrawn. Matt House, communications director for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, told Morning Consult on Wednesday afternoon that details on amendments are still being worked out.

The majority of amendments filed as of Tuesday are from Democrats, and many seek to use a “point of order” to stop the Senate from considering bills that would make changes to the ACA or to entitlement programs like Medicare.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) filed amendments that would block bills aimed at reducing or eliminating access to mental health care, and any cuts to Medicare that the Congressional Budget Office says would increase out-of-pocket costs for seniors. Another would require the CBO to score any legislation that changes the ACA.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) filed an amendment that would prohibit consideration of legislation that “makes women sick again” by decreasing access to or coverage of reproductive health care services, or allows insurance companies to discriminate against women.

The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t escape attention. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) filed an amendment that would allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs, a move that President-elect Donald Trump backed during a press conference Wednesday, but one that is typically not supported by Republicans. Among a handful of amendments from Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) is one that would prevent the Senate from considering legislation repealing provisions of the ACA that closed the “doughnut hole” in the Medicare prescription drug program.

One Republican amendment that could yield a notable result comes from Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. It would push back the date that congressional committees should report their ACA reconciliation legislation from Jan. 27 to March 3.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to go into detail on that amendment Tuesday.

“You’ll have the final package when we get to the end, probably late Wednesday night or Thursday morning, and that will give you the final Senate version,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters at his weekly press conference.