- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2011

House Republicans on Wednesday scored their first victory in their long-shot bid to scrap President Obama’s health care overhaul, delivering a repeal bill to the Senate and a stiff rebuke of White House policy that will help shape the political landscape over the weeks, months and years to come.

In one of its first acts since winning the House, the new Republican majority passed the repeal bill on a mostly party-line vote, fulfilling a campaign promise many of them made to voters last year, but now the effort moves on to the more substantive task of writing an alternative to the law Mr. Obama signed in March.

“Repeal means paving the way for better solutions that will lower the costs without destroying jobs or bankrupting our government,” House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said. “Let’s work together to put into place reforms that lower the costs without destroying jobs or bankrupting our government. Let’s challenge ourselves to do better.”

The vote was 245 to 189, with three Democrats joining all Republicans. The Democrats who voted for repeal were Reps. Mike Ross of Arkansas, Dan Boren of Oklahoma and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina.

While the outcome of the vote basically has been known for weeks, the road forward is unclear.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has cast the bill as a political stunt and promised it is doomed in the upper chamber, where he controls the schedule and decides what comes to the floor for a vote.

Before Wednesday’s vote, Mr. Reid criticized Republicans for trying “to take tax breaks away from small businesses, raise prescription-drug prices for seniors and let insurance companies go back to denying coverage to sick children.”

“As if that wasn’t bad enough, Republicans’ plan would also add more than $1 trillion to the deficit,” Mr. Reid said. “This is nothing more than partisan grandstanding at a time when we should be working together to create jobs and strengthen the middle class.”

Democrats also charged Republicans with being hypocritical for accepting the health plans to which they are entitled as members of Congress while trying to repeal some of those same benefits for other Americans. They offered an amendment that would have blocked the repeal bill until members of Congress walked away from their own benefits.

However, the GOP defeated the effort, and Mr. Boehner showed no signs of reversing course, telling reporters the vote was just the first step in making good on their pledge to repeal the law and replace it with reform that “actually lowers costs and protects American jobs.”

Republicans hope to generate enough momentum to eventually force a vote in the Senate, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, for the second time in as many days, dared Mr. Reid to bring up the repeal bill for a vote.

“I have a problem with the assumption here that somehow the Senate can be a place for legislation to go into a cul-de-sac or a dead end,” the Virginia Republican told reporters. “Leader Reid continues to say that he is not going to bring this up for a vote in the Senate. The American people deserve a full hearing. They deserve to see this legislation go to the Senate for a full vote.”

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, also sounded poised to push forward, saying that though Democratic leaders in the Senate don’t want to vote on this bill, “I assure you, we will.”

The final tally on Wednesday followed yet another round of press conferences, e-mail blasts and speeches in which lawmakers and advocacy groups aired many of the same arguments heard the past two years in Congress. Republicans and Democrats continue to hold opposing views on whether the health care overhaul adds to the deficit, creates jobs and honors the Constitution, particularly a provision requiring most people to get health insurance or pay a penalty.

Before the bill’s passage, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Republicans want to take the nation “back to a system” in which children with pre-existing conditions can be denied coverage, young people age 26 can’t stay on their parents’ plans, and seniors pay more for their drugs.

“I think we should send a strong message today with a great vote against this repeal, which is so harmful to the health of the American people, which is so damaging to our fiscal health as well, and to have people know that we want to have what is best for them,” the California Democrat said on the House floor.

But Rep. David Camp, Michigan Republican, argued that “the American people know that like a tree that is rotten at the center, we must cut it down and put something new in its place.”

“That is what we are doing today — cutting the government out of the waiting room, out of the doctor’s office and out of your medicine cabinet,” Mr. Camp said. “Once we have done that, we will begin tomorrow to implement step-by-step, common-sense reforms that actually lower the cost of health care and actually respect the patient-doctor relationship.”

The next step in the GOP’s plan comes Thursday, when the House is scheduled to take up a resolution that doles out to committees the responsibility of carving out an alternative bill that, among other things, reforms the medical malpractice insurance system, provides access to affordable health care coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and prohibits taxpayer-funded abortions.

“I just think it’s time to listen to the American people and to do this the right way,” Mr. Boehner said. “The Congress can do better in terms of replacing Obamacare with common-sense reforms that will bring down the cost of health insurance and expand access for more Americans.”

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