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What the Senate's 51-50 health care vote actually means

Here's what happened Tuesday, and what to watch for next.

They have no clear idea what bill might eventually be voted on. And it was so close the vice president had to come in to keep things moving along.

But Republicans in the U.S. Senate successfully voted Tuesday to keep the door open for a possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act (with the "replace" part TBD). 

The "motion to proceed," as it's called, passed 51-50. This vote doesn't actually repeal or replace anything – all it means is the Senate voted to have an open debate about the healthcare overhaul the House passed in May, the American Health Care Act.

Even if it's a procedural vote, as it's been described, this was a key step. If it had been rejected, this particular path toward a possible Obamacare repeal/replace would have been shut down, The Hill noted.

Who voted for and against it?

Republicans have 52 seats, compared to 48 for Democrats plus the left-leaning Independents. The GOP needed a simple majority (51 votes) to get the motion to proceed through.

That meant the GOP party could only afford for two of its senators to vote no. 

Those two came in the form of Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Collins and Murkowski joined the 46 Democrats and two Independents in voting against it.

The other big question was Sen. John McCain, but he came in just days after his brain cancer diagnosis to vote in favor of it (though noted that doesn't mean he'll vote for the "shell" the current bill is).

That made it a 50-50 tie, and led to Mike Pence's moment in the Senate spotlight.

How did Minnesota's senators vote?

As mentioned above, all Democrats were against this.

That included Minnesota's two senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar. Neither have been in support of undoing the Affordable Care Act.

What to look for next

It will probably be a bit chaotic.

The senators Tuesday technically voted to debate the House's American Health Care Act, but knew full well their version of an Obamacare repeal/replace would end up looking quite different through this process, CNN explained.

As Business Insider explains, the Senate will now have 20 hours of debate on the health care bill – with Democrats and Republicans each getting equal time.

And senators will be able to offer up amendments (small tweaks or significant changes to the bill), which could then get approved or shot down.

The goal for top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell is to come out the other side with a bill that has enough support to actually pass. What it will and won't include is educated guess work at this point – it's a chunk of health care clay that a lot of people will try to get their handprint on.

And that's not the only hurdle they face, with this Atlantic story laying out the challenge of the reconciliation process.

This is the method the Republicans are using to get this done, and it only needs 51 votes to pass. But there are rules about what can and can't be done under reconciliation.

Some of the things GOP senators might want to include – such as Planned Parenthood funding – relate to federal budgets and as such might not be allowed to pass using this method, the Atlantic explains, and would instead require 60 votes (meaning Democrats are required).

After that, if something actually passes, it'll then have to be matched with the House's version somehow ... so yeah, there are a lot of hurdles and an Affordable Care Act repeal is a ways away.

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