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How the GOP could force a repeal vote in the Senate

From NBC's Ken Strickland and Carrie Dann
Democratic leaders have vowed to prevent a measure to roll back the health care law from even coming to the Senate floor, but Republican leader Mitch McConnell "assured" the public yesterday that he would force a vote on repeal.

And there's a reasonable chance that he can pull it off.

"The Democratic leadership in the Senate doesn't want to vote on this bill," McConnell said in a YouTube video Wednesday. "But I assure you, we will."

The chances of McConnell getting a straight up-or-down vote to repeal the law are slim. But Republicans will likely force procedural votes that serve as a proxy of sorts to get their Democratic colleagues on the record. 

Because any vote that would ultimately lead to repeal would require 60 or even 67 votes, no GOP-led efforts would actually pass the Senate.

But Republicans say they'll happily take the consolation prize that comes with an official roll call vote: the ability to force Senate Democrats who are up for re-election to vote again in support of a health care measure that remains unpopular in their home states.

There are two things McConnell could do that would all but ensure a vote tied to repealing the law.

First, McConnell could withhold any deals or agreements to proceed to any legislation without a guarantee of a repeal vote, effectively throwing sand in the Senate's procedural gears until the law is addressed.

Another way to force a vote is for McConnell or any Republican senator to offer a "motion to suspend the rules," essentially asking for a change in Senate rules to require a vote on a repeal amendment. If all members are present, it would take 67 votes to succeed.

This was the rule Republican Sen. Tom Coburn used recently to force a vote to ban earmarks after Reid refused to bring the measure to the floor. And there is nothing that prevents any senator from using this strategy.

Don Stewart, McConnell's spokesman, says it's unclear how soon the GOP leader will act or what strategy he will use.

For Republicans, negotiating the public relations fallout of the repeal effort could prove even trickier than choosing the right procedural chess moves to set it in motion.

Democrats are expected to counter the GOP strategy by emphasizing efforts to pass legislation to bolster the economy and painting Republican maneuvers to push repeal as costly obstructionism.

Reid previewed that battle plan in a written statement yesterday, as the House was taking up the repeal measure.

"This is nothing more than partisan grandstanding at a time when we should be working together to create jobs and strengthen the middle class," he said.