"The best way to think of this is as a sort of long, multistep process from here to repeal," said Molley Reynolds of the Brookings Institute. "This was just step one."
"There's a lot of questions about the timeline, about when that repeal language would be developed in the House and Senate," she added. "When they would bring it to the floor, when the consideration of repeal language would happen in relation to the development of replace language. That's where we get into a lot of uncertainty."
The instructions voted on this week set January 27 as the deadline for committees to come up with specific language for repeal; however, there is no current consensus around what that should look like.
Absent this consensus, the speed with which Thursday's vote happened relied on an existing but incomplete 2017 fiscal year budget resolution written last year. In order to expedite an ordinarily lengthy process, Congressional leaders simply borrowed this work, added language to defund the Affordable Care Act and pushed for passage.
"They picked up that unfinished budget legislation," Reynolds said, "and put in some instructions to the effect of repealing the Affordable Care Act."
From a procedural standpoint, then, this week's voting is a necessary step towards repeal through reconciliation but not a binding one. At its discretion Congress could follow up with inaction.
And many observers do expect a long wait between reconciliation instructions and any concrete legislation.