Senate Democrats plan for long speeches to condemn health care repeal

Democrats planned hours of Senate speeches Monday to condemn the Republican push to obliterate President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, as the chamber's GOP leader stood by his party's plans to void the law and replace it later.

With Donald Trump just 12 days from entering the White House, Republicans have positioned a repeal of Obama's prized health care statute atop their congressional agenda. Democrats are trying to capitalize on the GOP's lack of replacement legislation, which has unsettled some Republican senators who worry about yanking health coverage from millions of voters without a substitute.

"We cannot allow Republicans to make America sick again by repealing the ACA without a replacement plan," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement, using the acronym for Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Democrats set their talk-a-thon for late Monday as Senate Republicans pushed toward a final vote this week on a budget that would shield a future bill repealing Obama's law from a Democratic filibuster. Once passed by the Senate and later the House, the budget would prevent Senate Democrats from using those delaying tactics, which take 60 votes to halt in a chamber Republicans control by just 52-48.

The speeches were planned as the GOP-run Congress began a second week in session. Besides work on the budget, lawmakers were focused on confirmation hearings for Trump's Cabinet

In Tuesday's initial hearings, committees will examine Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Trump's pick for attorney general, and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, his choice for homeland security secretary. Seven others were also set for hearings this week.

Also Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee planned a hearing on intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia meddled in the U.S. election by hacking and distributing Democratic party emails to help Trump win the White House.

Among the witnesses will be FBI Director James Comey. It will be his first public appearance before Congress since he announced just before the election that the FBI was studying additional emails connected to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, a revelation many Democrats say contributed to her defeat by Trump.

Obama's health care law required most people not insured by employers to purchase coverage, established exchanges where policies are sold and subsidies for many consumers, and expanded Medicaid coverage for lower-earning people. It's been accompanied by rising costs for many people and some insurers have fled some markets. Republicans who opposed the law en masse from the start say it has failed.

Several GOP senators have said they'd want to wait on repealing the 2010 health care law until a Republican alternative is ready. Though Trump and GOP leaders have described ideas about revamping the nation's health care system, Republicans have failed for years to unite behind a bill doing that.

In a column posted Monday on FoxNews.com, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stood by leaders' plans.

"Once repeal is passed we will turn to replacement policies that cost less and work better than what we have now," McConnell wrote. He said Republicans would replace the law "in manageable pieces," not one huge bill.

McConnell, who met with Trump in New York Monday morning, said on the Senate floor, "There's no quick fix to undo the damage" from the health care law and called repeal "just a first step."

He said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" that replacement would follow "rapidly" but did not define the timetable.

Schumer has said if Republicans repeal the health care law, Democrats will not help them craft a new package. That could pose a major problem for Republicans because replacement legislation would likely need 60 votes, meaning at least eight supportive Democrats, to pass the Senate.

McConnell said Monday that he wants Democrats to work with the GOP on an alternative health care bill, saying, "That's the best way forward. That's the way I prefer."

Associated Press

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