The U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul as Republicans delivered on campaign promises to reopen debate on the issue and attempt to reshape the law.
The measure passed 245-189, with all of the House’s 242 Republicans joined by three Democrats to support overturning the measure signed into law by Obama last March.
“Repeal means keeping a promise,” said House Speaker John Boehner in a speech on the House floor. “This is what we said we would do.”
The repeal bid has virtually no chance of taking effect -- Democrats, who control the Senate, say they will block the effort in the chamber and that, in any case, Obama would veto any such measure that reached his desk. Still, the House action officially re-ignited a debate that consumed Congress during much of Obama’s first two years in office and is likely to be a prime topic during the 2012 presidential campaign.
“This ain’t repealing nothing,” said Representative Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, on the House floor. “This is the political theater part of it.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, told reporters today that “the American people deserve to see a vote in the Senate.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he will push for one.
Cantor said the repeal vote will be followed tomorrow by a vote instructing House committees “to begin work to construct an alternative health-care vision” that will be “our so-called replacement bill.”
The health-care law, which cleared Congress last year with no Republican support, was Obama’s domestic priority. It extends coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, imposes new taxes on the highest wage-earners, calls for taxes on health-care companies and provides hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare savings.
Republicans, who won control of the House in November’s elections, have yet to offer specific proposals or a timeline for presenting their health-care bill.
During debate today, Republicans said their plan would include many provisions that Democrats touted in the existing law, including allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans up to age 26 and barring insurers from rejecting coverage for people based on pre-existing conditions.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters that a replacement plan would aim to “bring down the cost of health insurance for the American people and expand access.”
“We intend to take this in a methodical way,” Representative John Kline, chairman of the House committee on Education and the Workforce, said in an interview. “We will be having hearings, we’ll be gathering information.”
As they work on their proposals, Republicans plan to use the House Appropriations Committee to stymie Obama’s overhaul measure, mainly by denying money for implementing some of its provisions.
Polls show that Americans remain divided over the law, leaving both parties struggling to sway public opinion.
Forty-six percent of Americans think the health care law is likely to cut jobs, 54 percent think it will hurt the economy, and 62 percent see it as increasing the federal deficit, according to a poll conducted Jan. 13-16 by ABC News and the Washington Post.
At the same time, just 37 percent support repealing all or parts of the law, with just 18 percent favoring the full repeal pushed by Republicans. The survey’s error margin is plus-or- minus 3.5 percentage points.
Republicans, who call the law “Obamacare,” contend it will raise taxes, destroy jobs and burden businesses with new requirements such as one that makes them report to the Internal Revenue Service any expenditure over $600.
“Let’s stop payment on this check before it can destroy more jobs and put us in a deeper hole,” Boehner said in his floor speech.
Representative Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican, termed the overhaul measure “the crown jewel of socialism; it is socialized medicine.”
Representative John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican, argued against provisions that would cut Medicare spending by $455 billion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and would raise taxes by $409 billion over a decade with levies on hospitals, health insurers and tanning services, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Democrats say that if the Republicans manage to undo the law, they would roll back a number of benefits that have already taken effect for senior citizens, young adults and people with pre-existing conditions.
“It’s a bad deal for grandma,” Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said during floor debate. “It’s a bad deal for pregnant women.”
Repealing the act would be a “major setback” for tens of millions of people and hurt the economy, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said in a blog posting on the Treasury Department and White House websites today.
So far, 4,748 companies -- including financial services company Deutsche Bank Americas Holding Corp., food and beverage maker PepsiCo Inc., drugmaker Pfizer Inc., communications provider AT&T Inc. and carmaker General Motors Co. -- have qualified for help to pay for health-care benefits for workers who retire before age 65, according to a government fact sheet.
“This is life or death for a lot of people,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on a call with reporters. “Their health security, their family’s health security, depends on them getting the benefits we continue to implement.”
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