Ely Times photo
Dean Heller talks with a veteran during one of his visits this year to Ely.

By Kirk Kern and KayLynn Roberts-McMurray

The Ely Times

A Senate Republican who hadn’t declared how he’d vote on repealing much of the Obama health care law voted Tuesday to begin debate.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller’s vote was crucial because GOP leaders could only lose two of the 52 Republican senators and keep the bill alive.  The vote turned out 50-50, with Vice President Pence casting the tiebreaking vote.

Heller faces perhaps the toughest re-election race next year of any Senate Republican. He and his state’s popular Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, have opposed the GOP bill because of its Medicaid cuts.

“Maybe they can get something going, and if he doesn’t like what he sees to vote against it,” said Ely resident and veteran Ken Curto.

Heller said in a statement that doing nothing to solve problems with President Barack Obama’s law wasn’t tenable. He said he’d oppose the final bill if it’s not improved for Nevada.

“Obamacare clearly isn’t the answer — but doing nothing isn’t the answer either,” Heller said in a statement. “From Pioche to Battle Mountain families have expressed unbearable struggles with the massive increases in premiums and a total loss of options for healthcare under Obamacare. Next year, Nevadans living in 14 of our 17 counties will have no insurer at all to choose from and those purchasing insurance on the individual market will face an average premium increase of 38 percent.

“Too many Nevadans, particularly those living in rural areas, have been left with dwindling or no choices because Obamacare is unworkable.

“That’s why I voted to proceed and debate many different repeal and replace options that could work for Nevada. I have been working with colleagues on commonsense solutions that would improve our healthcare system — including giving more power back to states, where it belongs, and repealing the individual and employer mandates that force individuals to buy a product they may not want.

“To be clear – I am voting to begin debate because I believe that we can and must do better.

“If the final product isn’t improved for the state of Nevada, then I will not vote for it. If it is improved, I will. Nevada is and will remain my top priority.

Democrat members of Congress were angry at the way the vote went.

Said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto,  “This vote today is a disaster for Nevada. It will hurt hundreds of thousands of Nevadans.”

Rep. Ruben Kihuen (District 4) said the vote is one step closer to severely crippling the U.S. healthcare system.

“If successful, their efforts would leave millions without health coverage, cut funds for Medicaid, and increase healthcare costs for hardworking families,” he said. “Attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act should be alarming to each and every American. Our healthcare system is uniquely complex and requires a uniquely American solution. What we don’t need are misguided attempts to score political points that will only result in millions of Americans losing coverage and paying more for less care.”

Rep. Dina Titus tweeted: “The GOP is playing Russian roulette with our healthcare. They need to stop trying to appease Trump and start thinking about working families.

Rep. Jacky Rosen (District 3), who has announced she will run against Heller in 2018, said the senator broke his word with his constituents.

“Senator Heller had a chance today to stop the GOP’s toxic health care agenda, but instead he broke his word and cast the deciding vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no replacement plan,” she said in a statement. “After telling Nevadans he would oppose this effort to take insurance away from thousands of constituents, Senator Heller quietly folded and caved to political pressure from President Trump and Republican leadership. Senator Heller’s deciding vote is a slap in the face for Nevada families who are terrified of having their costs spike or their coverage disappear because of this reckless repeal effort. Make no mistake: this was a heartless and immoral vote to take health care away from tens of thousands of Nevadans and millions of Americans. Nevadans are going to reject this record of extreme partisanship and broken promises by repealing and replacing Senator Heller in 2018.”