- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It didn’t save them from catastrophic losses at the polls, but Democrats say the nuts-and-bolts benefits already in place thanks to the health care law, such as coverage for young adults and people with pre-existing health conditions, will derail House Republicans’ repeal efforts.

“The new law is giving people more freedoms and more choices,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. “Repeal really takes away all of those freedoms and shifts power back to the insurance companies.”

As the 112th Congress convenes Wednesday, the fight over health care has intensified. Democrats are counting on Americans’ appreciation of the law’s early-acting benefits — and their party’s continued majority in the Senate — to save the initiative.

Republicans, who take control of the House, have scheduled a vote Friday on repealing the health care overhaul. They will use the same sort of expedited debate rules that Democrats used to push the bill through Congress last year over Republican objections.

“The repeal bill is going to be a very straightforward document. It is going to reflect what I think most people inside the Beltway and outside the Beltway understand about the health care bill that was passed - it is a job-killing health care bill that spends money we don’t have,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia discusses the vote to ... more >

The House and Senate meet Wednesday to swear in new members, agree on rules and establish each chamber’s officers. In the House, that means Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, will become speaker and join the line of constitutional succession to the presidency. Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, outgoing Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and other House Democrats will see their party’s four years in the majority come to an abrupt end.

Democrats nevertheless predicted that it will be impossible for the GOP majority to repeal the health care law without undoing the changes that polls show are favorable to Americans. Those include ending lifetime caps on health insurance benefits and ensuring access to coverage for consumers with pre-existing health problems.

Republicans say they will follow up this week’s repeal vote with a longer-term process to replace the law and reform the system under conservative principles.

The new House rules will make it easier to cut taxes and tougher to increase entitlement spending, and will offer initiatives on legislative openness such as releasing the text of a bill at least three days before the House votes on it.

Those rules are subject to a majority vote and are certain to be adopted.

In the Senate, however, where Democrats retain a majority with a significantly smaller margin, some Democrats hope to spark a fight over filibuster rules, which they say Republicans abused last year to halt President Obama’s agenda. The practical upshot, they say, was that Democrats effectively needed a 60-vote majority to win on controversial bills and nominations.

Led mainly by newer senators but joined by some more senior members, a group of Democrats is proposing a ban on the ability to filibuster motions to bring bills to the floor, though filibusters still could block final passage of legislation. The lawmakers also want to make filibusters more painful by requiring those blocking legislation to speak on the floor. Under the current system, those trying to break a filibuster have to do the heavy lifting.

Other first-week House action will include a vote to cut the chamber’s expenses by 5 percent, which Republicans said will save $35.2 million this year. That is the first of what the GOP said will be weekly votes on specific spending cuts. The resolution is binding only on the House.

With control of Congress split, neither party will be able to push through its priorities unilaterally.

But on the day before Congress convened, Republicans and Democrats said they shared overriding goals such as producing an economy that creates jobs. Democrats said they want to reduce the deficit, while Republicans said spending cuts are paramount.

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