Wasting no time, House Republicans moved quickly ahead Thursday with their own overhaul of the nation's health care system, commanding key committees to get to work and launching a fresh attack on federal policies regarding abortion funding.
One day after voting to repeal President Obama's health care law, the House approved a resolution directing four committees to write bills aimed at preserving some of the more popular parts of the Democrats' law, such as requiring coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, while also addressing the GOP's desire to curb malpractice lawsuits and prohibit taxpayer funding of abortions.
"Having taken that action to wipe the slate clean, we are now moving on to the far more challenging task of crafting real solutions for the American people," Rep. David Dreier, California Republican, who now chairs the House Rules Committee, said on the House floor.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs brushed off the resolution's passage, but also noted that "many of the goals that they espouse in that bill are the current law of the land, like ensuring that people aren't discriminated because of a pre-existing condition."
"That actually exists, it's called the Affordable Care Act," he said.
Despite the opposition to the repeal effort, there is a general sense that between the court challenges lodged against the law and the bills introduced to change it, the health care act will be tweaked in some fashion.
Perhaps the easiest possible change will involve the '1099' tax reporting requirement for businesses, set to kick in next year. Lawmakers agree that the reporting requirement places too much of a burden on small businesses, and three Democratic senators wrote a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner on Thursday urging him to pass a bill rolling back that requirement.
Republicans' "replace"resolution, which passed on a near party-line 236-181 vote, gives the committees 12 goals for reform, and challenges the president's claim that the law he signed in March preserves a patient's ability to keep his or her health plan, creates jobs and reduces the tax burden.
The resolution doesn't set a deadline for the committees to report back with legislative proposals, but House Republicans already have introduced one part of their "replace" agenda,the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," which calls for an end to the taxpayer funding of abortions and to provide conscience protections for doctors.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, who is leading the effort, told The Washington Times the measure would ensure that federal funding for the high-risk insurance pools, community health centers and health insurance exchanges in Mr. Obama's law does not go to subsidize abortions.
This past summer, the Obama administration issued a new regulation that prohibited state high-risk pools from covering elective abortions, but Mr. Smith said that needs to be written into law.
"It is completely up to the call of the secretary of Health and Human Services and the president if they want to [stop federally funding abortions]," Mr. Smith said. "That's no guarantee."
Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat, said the proposal was an intrusion on women's abortion rights and argued that the Hyde Amendment already bars the use of certain federal funds for abortions.
"This bill represents the biggest infringement on a woman's right to choose in our lifetime," Ms. DeGette said in a statement.
Like the "repeal and replace" push, the abortion bill faces an uphill battle because it must pass the House and the Democrat-controlled Senate and then avoid Mr. Obama's veto pen.
Democrats have criticized the repeal effort as a political charade aimed at pleasing tea party supporters and conservative-minded voters who helped the GOP seize control of the House in the November election. They also have adopted the jobs attack Republicans used against them over the past two years, arguing that the GOP is wasting time that should be spent on crafting legislation aimed at reducing the country's unemployment rate.
"Today's bill is more of the same: It doesn't create jobs and offers no solutions," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said about resolution passed by the GOP. "We must stay focused on Americans' top priorities: jobs and our economy."
Ms. DeGette injected a similar argument into the debate over the abortion bill.
"With unemployment hovering near double digits, and underemployment even higher, the first priority of this Congress should be to help get Americans back to work - not inject itself into a woman's constitutionally protected right to choose what is best for her family," she said.
Still, the agreement between Democrats and Republicans to change the 1099 reporting provisions shows health care remains an important topic.
Without any changes, the provision would require 40 million businesses to file tax forms for every vendor that sells them more than $600 in goods. The provision has been criticized by both parties and the White House.
Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota sent Mr. Boehner the letter urging him to tackle that issue soon.
"This past November, voters sent both parties a clear message: focus on job creation," the senators said the letter. "As President Obama has recently noted, our economy will recover more quickly and create more jobs if we can reduce regulations on business. Repealing this provision would be a great first step as we work together to grow the economy."
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