- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Obama administration’s health care initiative survived a major test Wednesday when Senate Democrats blocked a Republican attempt to repeal the reforms, though GOP leaders vowed to continue their fight to kill what they called a massive “jobs killing” measure.

The repeal measure failed by a party-line vote of 51-47 — nine votes shy of the 60 needed for passage. Sens. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, and Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, were not present.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Republicans should “set aside the battles of the past” and give up their losing effort to repeal the law.

“It’s time to move on from extreme, ideological plans to repeal a health care law that is lowering prices, expanding access to care and lowering our deficit,” he said. “There is plenty of work left to do together to create jobs, expand our economy and move this country forward.”

Democrats said the Republicans’ repeal push was nothing more than a political game and a waste of Senate time.

“If there is one clear message that voters sent in the past election, it is that they want Democrats and Republicans in Congress to cut out the bickering and partisanship and to focus like a laser beam on boosting the economy, creating jobs and reducing the deficit,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat.

“I find it absolutely astonishing that the Republicans’ No. 1 priority — their obsession — in these opening weeks of the new Congress is to launch bitter new partisan attacks on the new health reform law.”

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, denied that the repeal effort was merely symbolic, saying the party was responding to voter complaints about the bill and “to listen to those who have desperately been trying to get your attention.”

Mr. McConnnell said the repeal vote allowed senators who supported the bill last year an opportunity “to say, ‘Yes, maybe my vote for this bill was a mistake, and that we can do better.’ “

The Kentucky Republican added that the Wednesday vote was “just the beginning.”

“We’ll be looking at it in every way to revisit it,” he said.

Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, pointed out that the vote count was an improvement over GOP-led efforts to defeat the bill in late 2009.

“Elections do have consequences,” he said, referring the Nov. 2 midterms that resulted in a six-seat pickup for the GOP in the Senate.

The Republican-controlled House voted last month to repeal the measure. Every Republican in the chamber voted in favor of repeal, as did three Democrats.

The two parties did come together Wednesday to easily pass a measure to eliminate an unpopular part of the health care law — the so-called “1099 provision” that called for businesses to report to the Internal Revenue Service purchases of $600 or more.

Aside from axing the entire health care law, Republicans had made repealing the 1099 provision among their highest priorities. Democrats agreed that the provision should be fixed.

“Democrats have said we are willing to compromise on common-sense fixes to health care reform - keeping what works and changing what doesn’t - to make an imperfect law closer to perfect,” Mr. Reid said. “Today we reached across the aisle for the good of families and businesses in Nevada and across America.”

But the majority leader warned that Democrats won’t compromise if it means “undoing the progress we’ve made toward fixing a broken system.”

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said Democrats were “fooling themselves” if they assume that the 1099 provision was the only fix needed in the law.

“I’m disappointed our friends on the other side of the aisle aren’t willing to start over in a collaborative manner,” he said.

The health care amendments were attached to an aviation-safety bill designed to update the nation’s antiquated aircraft-navigation system.

Meanwhile Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing regarding the constitutionality of the 2010 health care law. Chairman Patrick J. Leahy said he was confident that Congress “acted well within the bounds of its constitutional authority” in drafting and passing the sweeping reforms.

“The language and spirit of the Constitution provides for such action, as does judicial precedent and prior acts of Congress,” the Vermont Democrat said. “I hope that the independent judiciary will not seek to cast aside this landmark legislation or Congress‘ ability to act to protect the American people.”

But committee member Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said there are many constitutional questions about the law’s “individual mandate” provision that requires Americans to buy insurance.

“The reality is that no one can say for certain” whether the individual mandate is constitutional, Mr. Grassley said. “The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service notes that it is unprecedented for Congress to require all Americans to purchase a particular service or good.”

The hearing and Senate vote came two days after a federal district judge in Florida ruled that Congress breached the Constitution when it enacted the measure last year. Judge Roger Vinson was the second jurist to say that Congress exceeded its powers by enacting the individual mandate.

But the Florida judge went further, saying that if the individual mandate is unconstitutional, so is the entire law.

Senate Republicans also this week introduced legislation that would allow states to opt out of the law’s major provisions, including the individual mandate and the “employer mandate” that penalizes businesses that don’t provide workers with government-approved health insurance.

“When Washington has a one-size-fits-all approach, it doesn’t work anywhere in this country,” said Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, a medical doctor who was a sponsor of the effort.

“We need to have patient-centered health care without the Washington bureaucrats or the insurance company bureaucrats standing between the patients and their doctors.”

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