The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has taken the first step to scrap President Barack Obama's health care reforms, but has yet to produce a replacement plan.
Republicans have made repealing the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as "Obamacare," one of their top priorities when President-elect Donald Trump takes office in a week.
Trump congratulated the Senate on the vote on Twitter Thursday. "Congrats to the Senate for taking the first step to #RepealObamacare - now it's on to the House!" he tweeted.
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The Senate voted 51-48 early Thursday to approve rules that allow repeal legislation to go forward with a simple majority and not be subject to a filibuster by Democrats that would require a 60-vote majority to repeal the 2010 law. Republicans control 52 of the Senate's 100 seats.
"The Senate just took an important step toward repealing and replacing Obamacare by passing the resolution that provides the legislative tools necessary to actually repeal this failed law while we move ahead with smarter health care policies," Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
The House of Representatives, where Republicans also have a majority, is expected to vote on the resolution Friday. Republican leaders plan to have the actual repeal legislation drafted by the end of January.
The big outstanding question is what would happen if they repeal it. So far, there has not been a consensus Republican plan about how to replace the health care law that brought insurance to 20 million Americans who previously lacked coverage.
Trump said Wednesday he wants to "get health care taken care of in this country." The president-elect called for both the repeal and replace efforts to take place at virtually the same time, something Congress is unlikely to be able to do because of lawmaking rules and almost-total Democratic opposition to abandoning the current law.
Democrats passed the reforms when they controlled both houses of Congress, with Obama in his first term, and have celebrated it as a way to help slow the growth in health care spending while also bringing coverage to the poor and those who had previously been denied because of pre-existing conditions.
FILE - The HealthCare.gov 2017 ("Obamacare") home page is seen on a laptop screen. Presisent Obama has said that Obama said on Tuesday that if anyone creates a plan that is "demonstrably better" and covers as many people as the existing plan at a lower cost, then he will publicly support it.
'Collapsing under its own weight,' critics claim
But Republicans have staunchly opposed it, especially the requirement that all Americans buy insurance or pay a fine if they do not. Republicans have argued that the law is too expensive and that individual states should have more control over health care spending and not the federal government.
Obama said Tuesday in his farewell address that if anyone creates a plan that is "demonstrably better" and covers as many people at a lower cost, then he will publicly support it.
Republican Senator David Perdue said the program is "collapsing under its own weight" and that his party does have proposals to make it better.
"There are various common-sense Republican health care solutions that would provide greater coverage options, drive down costs, and improve continuity of care," he said.
Democratic senators criticized the Senate vote, particularly the effort to move forward with dismantling the program without a clear replacement.
"It's official, Senate Republicans have taken the first step to take away your health care without a replacement. Shameful," Senator Bob Menendez said in a Twitter comment after the vote.
Senator Ben Cardin said repealing the law would eliminate key protections, including letting children stay on their parents' plan until age 26 and a ban on lifetime coverage limits.
"The Republican repeal of the ACA is an outrageous and reckless partisan move that will leave millions of middle-class Americans and small businesses at financial risk," Cardin said.