WASHINGTON – Republicans in the House of Representatives fulfilled a campaign promise, casting a largely symbolic vote to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. The measure was sure to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate and faced a certain veto if it should reach the president’s desk.Nevertheless, the Wednesday vote in the House, newly under Republican control, signaled the beginning of the party’s effort to dismantle the law by starving it of money as portions of the legislation go into effect in the coming years.
That effort was expected to begin as early as Thursday as Republicans roll up their sleeves for the task of trying to build health care into an issue for their bid to oust Obama from the White House in the 2012 presidential election.
Obama signed the health care overhaul into law in March after a bitter and ugly partisan battle. The measure extends health care coverage over a period of four years to 32 million Americans who now lack it and puts controls on insurance companies that were denying coverage to those with pre-existing ailments or removing protections from those who became ill.
With the passage of the law, Obama had won a legislative victory that had eluded presidents stretching back almost half a century.
The law also gives tax breaks to lower- to middle-income Americans to help with insurance premiums and allows young adults to maintain coverage until age 26 under their parents’ policy.
Republicans contend the law, much of which does not go into effect until 2014, is an intrusion into Americans’ private affairs, amounts to a government takeover of health care and is too costly.
They are particularly angered over a requirement that would force millions of uninsured Americans to by health coverage, whether through an employer, a government program, or self-purchase. New insurance marketplaces called exchanges would open in each state, enabling individuals and small businesses to pick from a menu of private plans that meet government standards. Federal subsidies would help defray the costs.
In advance of the vote, Obama had said he was willing to work with Democrats and Republicans to improve the law but warned that legislators should not “go backward” and repeal the measure, which afforded Americans the freedom and security of knowing insurance companies cannot deny, cap or drop coverage.
Republicans and Democrats adopted a more civil tone without angry shouts as they debated the repeal legislation on the House floor Wednesday, just 10 days after the shooting rampage in Arizona that left six people dead, a Democratic congresswoman wounded and lawmakers of both parties stunned. The rhetorical flourishes remained, however.
The House vote had been slated for last week as the Republicans’ first order of business, but action was put off after the attack on Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot through the head. She remains hospitalized in serious condition but six others who attended her meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona, died at the scene, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.
For many first-term Republican lawmakers, Wednesday was one they had long waited for, a chance to speak and then vote on the House floor against a bill they had campaigned for months to repeal.
Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan said the legislation was a “job-killing, Socialistic” approach to health care. Rep. Frank Guinta, who defeated a Democratic incumbent last fall, said it was misguided, but no less worthy of repeal.