NASHVILLE — Republicans' effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act survived its first major U.S. Senate test Tuesday with the help of U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, who voted to proceed with Senate floor debate on a bill that remains largely a work in progress.
Critics attacked the move not just for its ultimate goal of repealing or overhauling Obamacare but also for violating what they say are Senate customs by refusing to hold a single public hearing on legislation that could impact health care for millions of Americans and Tennesseans.
In similarly worded statements, Alexander and Corker justified their votes to proceed.
"Every senator, Republican and Democrat alike, will now have a virtually unlimited opportunity to debate and offer amendments to help put together a health care bill that helps Americans," said Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee.
Offered Corker, former Chattanooga mayor: "Every senator — on both sides of the aisle — will now have the opportunity to offer amendments and have their voice heard on the Senate floor. And I am hopeful that the final product developed by both chambers will be one that works better for the American people than what is in place today."
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini charged Alexander and Corker have "shown once again that their party comes before the people of Tennessee.
"So when you lose your health coverage, blame Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander," Mancini said in her statement. "When your son or your daughter, fresh out of college, can no longer be covered on your plan, blame Corker and Alexander."
The campaign of James Mackler, a Nashville Democrat running against Corker in 2018, accused the Chattanooga senator of "putting blind political obedience ahead of people."
Mackler's campaign manager, Dave Hoffman, said in a statement that "unlike Senator Corker, James Mackler knows that true patriotism is not blind obedience to authority." Calling health care a "right," Hoffman said resulting cuts to Medicaid, increases in premiums "for our sick and elderly, and decreases in necessary coverage will be disastrous and wrong."
Calling it a "sad day," Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, said senators "continue to play games that are more about politics and self interest than Tennessee's children, seniors and people with disabilities."
Joining in support was Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who said, "Obamacare is collapsing under its own weight, and soon the very people who need help the most will lose their insurance."
"This failed system isn't going to fix itself," added Perdue, who blasted Democrats for having "refused to work with us on bipartisan solutions, and today not one of them voted to help fix the damage they did to our health care system."
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., later said that "repealing the failing Obamacare law that has driven up costs and eliminated choice for many Georgia families is a commitment of mine because hardworking Georgia families deserve better."
But U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., called it "shameful" for Republicans to push to begin debate on a bill that had no Senate committee hearings.
CNN, meanwhile, quoted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., saying, "Here are many, many Republicans who don't like this bill, who don't want to vote for it" and only did because "they are under enormous pressure."
But Schumer said, "Anyone who voted to move to proceed and certainly anyone who votes to send this bill to conference is virtually, certainly, voting to kick millions off health care, to make it much harder to get coverage if you have a pre-existing condition, to slash Medicaid and give a huge amount of tax cuts to the rich."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.