When the Senate took the first of many steps in the Obamacare repeal process this week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) was the only Republican to vote in opposition.
But it's important to understand that what happened this week wasn't a straightforward Obamacare repeal vote, and Paul wasn't voting to keep the law in place. He was voting out of objection to the GOP's debt-laden budget plans.
The vote was the first step in a long and convoluted budget process that Republicans are hope to use as a vehicle for repealing major components of the law. That process, known as reconciliation, is complex and convoluted, and it will take weeks if it goes swiftly, but could easily take much longer.
After the Senate adopts a budget resolution, the House must follow with its own. Then the two must come together, either through a conference process or by adopting the same measure. From there committee instructions are drawn up, and the process splits into two tracks again, with relevant House and Senate committees putting together their own reconciliation bills, each of which must be debated in multiple committees and then passed by the full body, and then unified again, likely requiring yet another conference process. Only then can the bill be sent to the president's desk. (A Roll Call infographic helpfully lays out the basics here.)
Ultimately, there's no guarantee that this process will actually end with the repeal of the health law.
So what we saw this week wasn't the main event. If this were a dinner party, it wouldn't be the meal. It wouldn't even be setting the table. It would be more like deciding that perhaps there should be a meal several weeks or months down the road, with no final agreement about what might be on the menu.
Paul's no vote was an objection to the budget itself—which adds to the national debt and provides no clear path to budget balance—not to repealing the health care law.
Here's how he explained it:
"As a physician, I cannot wait to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a health care system that relies on freedom to provide quality, comprehensive, and affordable care," Paul said in a statement, reports the Lexinton Herald-Leader. "But putting nearly $10 trillion more in debt on the American people's backs through a budget that never balances is not the way to get there. It is the exact opposite of the change Republicans promised, and I cannot support it, even as a placeholder….Not only are we not cutting spending, but we are also proposing an increase at an exponential pace. There is no reason we cannot repeal Obamacare and pass a balanced budget at the same time."
This isn't the only objection Paul has raised to the GOP's plans this year. He has also been among the most vocal GOP legislators in opposing Republican leadership's "repeal and delay" strategy on Obamacare, which would repeal the law but leave it in place for several years while the GOP worked out a replacement plan. It looks as if Paul is deliberately taking steps to distance himself from the party and its leadership in order to preserve a measure of independence.
Paul isn't the only Republican to trash the GOP's budget plans either.
The House is expected to vote on its own budget resolution today, and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) says he's voting no because the plan would add far too much to the debt. "By nearly every measure," he wrote last night, the current proposal "is the worst budget I've seen as a congressman."
We get the House.
We get the Senate.
We get the White House.
We get a budget that grows debt by $9 trillion?
There's still time to stop it. https://t.co/WljbZTeL5W
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) January 13, 2017