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In a symbolic move, House votes to defund proviso of health law

Repeal of program unlikely in Senate

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The House on Wednesday voted to defund a portion of the 2010 health care reform law that deals with preventative health services - a mostly symbolic gesture as the bill almost certainly will be blocked in the Senate.

But the vote, which was part of the compromise reached late Friday to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2011, gave House Republicans another opportunity to bash the law they derisively call "Obamacare."

Republicans oppose the Prevention and Public Health Fund because they say it gives the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) unchecked authority to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on dubious public health care initiatives without further congressional approval.

"These funds could be used to continue wasteful and duplicative programs that fail to actually improve health care for Americans," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican. "By repealing this fund, we ensure that public health programs of highest priority will continue to be supported by Congress."

The 236-183 vote was mostly along party lines, as only four Democrats joined all Republicans in supporting the measure.

The fund provides block grants to states for programs aimed at such things as preventing tobacco use, obesity and heart disease, as well as efforts to increase immunizations, HIV testing and other prevention and health initiatives.

The fund is estimated to cost more than $15 billion over 10 years, the White House's Office of Management and Budget says.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, said the grant program is little more than a "slush fund" for HHS.

"Isn't it amazing that some of our colleagues think that fund will make people healthier?" she said. "Money doesn't make people healthier, we all know that."

But Rep. Kathy Castor, Florida Democrat, defending the fund, said it's cost effective and allows local communities to decide how best to care for their residents.

"Prevention works. It's smart. It saves taxpayers money. It saves lives," she said. "Dismantling the Prevention and Public Health Fund would be detrimental to our economy and our community."

The White House has threatened to veto any legislation that would eliminate the fund's budget.

Wednesday's action was a prelude to votes in Congress this week to defund Planned Parenthood and the overall 2010 health care law - votes Democrats also agreed to allow as part of last week's 2011 spending-bill deal compromise.

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