Did Senate Republicans vote to support Obamacare?


Last week, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) pushed for an amendment to the Continuing Resolution (CR) for the 2013 Fiscal Year. The amendment, which failed, was a simple one: it repealed Obamacare in its entirety.

That amendment failed, 45-54, but got the votes of every single Republican in the Senate.

Shortly afterwards, the Senate CR came up for a final vote. One might expect most Republicans to oppose the CR because of its Obamacare funding, and one would have been right – but barely. In fact, a full 20 Republicans voted for the CR, leaving only 25 Republicans and one Democrat (Jon Tester-MT) to oppose it. The CR passed 73-26, with one Democratic Senator not voting.

Two notable names were on the list of Republicans who voted to defund Obamacare, yet subsequently voted for the Obamacare-included CR: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee.

As Erick Erickson noted, Senator McConnell said at CPAC – only six days before the vote – that “Obamacare should be repealed root and branch. And we’re not backing down from this fight.” Yet, when push came to shove, he flinched.

Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago, it was Senator Sessions who touted the Government Accountability Office’s assessment (an assessment initiated by the Senator) that Obamacare would add $6.2 trillion to America’s debt over 75 years.

So why did these two prominent Senators vote for passage of the Continuing Resolution, which at best slows implementation of Obamacare? Here are a few possibilities:

  1. The CR held fast to sequestration. Perhaps both Senators thought this was worth supporting, despite the Obamacare funding.
  2. Without the CR, the government was set to shut down this week. Perhaps both Senators thought keeping the government open for business was more important than the threat of a government shutdown.
  3. The CR has something of a backdoor approach to repealing Obamacare. While it’s unlikely to work, Senators Sessions and McConnell may have more confidence in it than Tea Party Patriots does.
  4. The legislation easily had enough votes to pass, even without their support – but they may have decided their support was important for reasons related to public relations. After all, the media is likely to hammer Republicans for opposing the CR, so having top Republicans support it mitigates those attacks.

At first glance, it is very surprising that both men supported the CR, especially Senator McConnell – he is already likely to face a primary challenge in 2014, and supporting legislation that funds Obamacare is not good for his political survival. According to McConnell spokesman John Ashbrook, Senator McConnell’s reasoning was sound: “This bill actually blocks nearly a billion dollars in funds the Obama administration requested for the implementation of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, locks in the sequester cuts, and provides the Pentagon with additional flexibility, which is why so many top conservatives in the House and Senate supported it.”

Senator Sessions’ office has not responded to multiple requests for comment about his vote for the CR. This post will be updated if this changes.