The U.S. House’s new Republican majority began its drive to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul law, an effort Democrats derided as a politically motivated diversion from more pressing matters.
The Republicans, who campaigned on a promise to repeal the health-care law enacted last year when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, scheduled a Jan. 12 vote on their two-page measure. It is entitled the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.”
The measure has little likelihood of success because Democrats, who retained control of the Senate in November’s elections, have vowed to block it. The Obama administration, citing a Congressional Budget Office estimate that the repeal would add $230 billion to the deficit over a decade, said the president would veto the legislation should it reach his desk.
Republicans today pressed their case against the overhaul, which passed the House in March solely with Democratic votes.
“We have got to repeal this so we can create more jobs” by freeing small businesses of the law’s requirements to provide health insurance to employees, said Representative Vicky Hartzler, a freshman Republican from Missouri. “The people of my district do not want the government telling them they have to buy a private product and mandating what is in the product.”
The law’s requirement that every American get health insurance, either through their employer or by purchasing it on an exchange, has been challenged by 20 state attorneys general. A federal judge in Virginia last month held the provision was unconstitutional. Another federal judge in Florida has been asked to invalidate the entire law. The issue is likely to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Democrats argued that by seeking to repeal the health-care law, House Republicans are merely engaging in a political exercise that doesn’t reflect the wishes of a broad swath of the electorate.
“What we are going to see next week is political theater,” said Democratic Representative Jim McDermott of Washington. “It is a political document for a political purpose for a part of the Republican Party. It is not what the American people are actually feeling.”
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, told reporters the repeal effort has more than symbolic value. “It's an important substantive statement,” he said. “We want to repeal the bill.”
Republican leaders said next week’s vote will be followed up with hearings on how to change the law’s provisions and withhold funds for its implementation.
In defending the law, Democrats focused on provisions they said most voters support, such as requirements that adult children can remain on their parents’ health-insurance policies until age 26 and that coverage can’t be denied due to pre- existing medical conditions.
Repeal “would give back to insurance companies unreasonable premium increases, unjust policy terminations,” said Representative Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat.
Democrats also protested the decision by the House Rules Committee to deny any opportunity to change the repeal measure during next week’s debate. New House Speaker John Boehner had pledged to allow the minority party to offer amendments to legislation on the floor -- something Republicans said the Democrats hadn’t done when they held the majority the last two years.
“This is nothing but a gag rule,” Representative Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, said before the House voted 236- 181 today to adopt the rules for debating the repeal measure.
Asked by reporters yesterday whether he had backtracked, Boehner said “I promised a more open process, I didn’t promise that every single bill was going to be an open bill.”
The Ohio Republican also said, “There will be many open rules in this Congress. Just watch.”
Four Democrats who opposed the health-care legislation last year joined Republicans in supporting the debate rule.
To contact the reporter on this story: James Rowley in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org