Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday night, just hours before the president's State of the Union address, began the legislative process of forcing the House-passed health care repeal bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
Using a particular Senate rule typically reserved for the leaders, McConnell bypassed committee action and put the bill directly before the members, even without the support of the Majority Leader who, for the most part, controls the legislative calendar. It is a procedure that takes a couple of days to ripen before any vote can occur, though even then it could be a fight.
McConnell's Democratic counterpart, Harry Reid of Nevada, has vowed that no such repeal vote will occur, but the Kentucky Republican has stuck to his guns, telling Fox News' Chris Wallace on Sunday, "The Democratic leadership in the Senate doesn't want a vote on this bill, but I assure you we will."
McConnell has a crack floor staff who cannot be underestimated in finding creative ways to get this vote.
A spokesman for the Democratic leadership, Brian Fallon, sent the following e-mail response, "Republicans are wasting time fighting old battles when we should be focused on creating jobs. Three out of four Americans oppose full repeal because it would re-open the donut hole on seniors and raise taxes on small businesses. We hope the Republicans will move on and work with us on common-sense measures to strengthen the middle class."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-Ny., seemed to acknowledge the inevitability of a repeal vote, though, on Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation, but the #3 Democrat, a close Reid ally, promised that any such vote will come with a twist.
"Mitch McConnell has the right to offer an amendment," Schumer conceded, but added, "If he does...then we will require them to vote on the individual protections in the bill that are very popular and that even some of the new Republican House members have said they support. So in the end, their repeal bill is going to be so full of holes it looks like Swiss cheese."
It is unclear where the votes would stand on repeal, likely it would be close to party-line, though several Democrats have said some serious changes could be implemented. Both Sens. Joe Manchin, D-WV, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., for instance, have said the individual health care mandate could be replaced.