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U.S. House Republicans Begin Health-Law Substitute

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama. Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives will begin drafting their own health-care measure today, now that the chamber has voted to repeal the overhaul President Barack Obama pushed into law last year.

The House will take up a resolution formally authorizing four committees to begin work on the legislation. Two have announced investigations into the law, one on its effect on jobs and a second on how the administration has granted waivers for some companies to avoid new rules.

Republicans, who won control of the House in November’s elections, have yet to offer specific proposals in their own bill. “We intend to take this in a methodical way,” Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in an interview. “We will be having hearings. We’ll be gathering information.”

The health-care law that cleared Congress in March with no Republican support was the top domestic priority for Obama and congressional Democrats, who then controlled the House and the Senate. 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.

The vote on repealing the health-care law was 245-189, with three Democrats -- Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Mike Ross of Arkansas -- joining all House Republicans in supporting the measure.

Re-Ignited Debate

Although the repeal has almost no chance of taking effect as long as Obama is president, yesterday’s vote delivered on Republican campaign promises to reopen debate on revamping the U.S. health-care system and to attempt to reshape the overhaul law. The issue dominated Congress during much of Obama’s first two years in office and is likely to be a prime topic in the 2012 presidential campaign.

During debate yesterday, Republicans said their plan would include many provisions that Democrats promoted in the law, including allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans up to age 26 and barring insurers from denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

House Speaker John 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.”

Slow Rollout

Kline said the legislation will be rolled out slowly, proposal by proposal, rather than packaged into the type of comprehensive measure the Democrats passed. Republicans intend that some of those bills, such as a repeal of tax reporting requirements on business purchases over $600, will attract enough Democratic support to pass the Senate.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, headed by Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, yesterday released a memo that called “repealing Obamacare the central health-related focus” of the panel.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to the administration today opening an investigation into the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, the office in the Health and Human Services Department charged with writing many of the regulations to implement the health law.

“Most troubling is that your office is currently responsible for deciding who does not have to comply with the massive new regulations imposed,” wrote Upton.

Approving Waivers

The administration office has approved 222 waivers for companies, local governments and other organizations for part of the law requiring minimum coverage levels by employer insurance offerings, according to its Web site.

The House Ways and Means Committee, headed by Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, announced a hearing next week looking into how the law will impact employers and the economy.

“Employers of all sizes are expressing concern that the new mandates and regulations will deter them from hiring new employees, threaten their ability to retain existing workers, and harm their ability to increase wages for existing employees,” committee Republicans said in a statement on their website announcing the hearing.

Republicans also plan to use the House Appropriations Committee, headed by Representative Hal Rogers of Kentucky, to financially starve Obama’s overhaul measure by denying money for implementing some of its provisions.

Democrats, who control the Senate, say the repeal effort will be blocked in that chamber -- and that, in any case, Obama would veto any such measure that reached his desk.

‘Political Theater’

“This ain’t repealing nothing,” Representative Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, said on the House floor yesterday. “This is the political theater part of it.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, told reporters yesterday that “the American people deserve to see a vote in the Senate.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he would push for one.

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, only 37 percent support repealing all or parts of the law, with just 18 percent favoring the full repeal pushed by Republicans. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Raising Taxes

Republicans contend that the law will raise taxes, destroy jobs and burden businesses with new requirements, such as the 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.

Representative Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican, termed the overhaul measure “the crown jewel of socialism; it is socialized medicine.”

Democrats say that if the Republicans manage to undo the law, they will 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.”

‘Major Setback’

Repealing the act would be a “major setback” for tens of millions of people and would hurt the economy, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in a blog posting on the Treasury Department and White House websites.

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 and death for a lot of people,” 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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