A first attempt by congressional Republicans to repeal part of President Obama’s new health care law failed Tuesday as the House overwhelmingly rejected an effort to cut out the individual mandate that requires all Americans to have coverage.
Democrats called the bid a “disingenuous political stunt” and rallied their troops to defeat the effort, 230-187. Still, 21 Democrats joined 166 Republicans in voting to undo one of the key parts of the health care law, signaling bipartisan unease at the massive overhaul of the nation’s health care system.
The individual mandate requires Americans to have coverage through their job or to purchase a plan themselves, or else face tax penalties. It was part of the key bargain Mr. Obama struck with health insurers to broaden the pool of insured in exchange for companies accepting new rules on who qualified for coverage, lifetime benefits and other difficult issues.
The mandate that all Americans must buy health insurance also faces a constitutional legal challenge from some 20 states and business groups. The legal cases are still pending.
Democrats warned that the GOP measure could gut the Obama health plan.
“If this were to pass, it would result in the loss of coverage of more than 16 million needy Americans,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Republicans, led by Rep. Dave Camp, the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, said requiring Americans to purchase insurance crossed a historic line.
“The federal government has never required its citizens to purchase a particular product before, and doing so with health insurance violates basic principles of freedom and individual choice,” the Michigan Republican argued.
His move to repeal the individual mandate came as an amendment to a small business bill. Democrats could have blocked the move on parliamentary grounds as unrelated to the underlying bill, but instead allowed the vote to go forward.
Since the health care bill passed in March, repeal has become a hot topic.
A Rasmussen Reports poll released this week found 58 percent of likely voters favor repeal of the law — down from a high of 63 percent in May, but still far more than the 36 percent who oppose repeal.
One Republican, Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao of Louisiana, voted with Democrats against repeal. He voted for the first version of health care to pass the House last year, but voted against the final version of the bill that passed earlier this year.
Most of the Democrats who voted for repeal are from conservative-leaning districts and voted against the health care bill earlier this year as well.
Still, House Republicans saw political targets in the vote. Their campaign committee immediately fired off an e-mail aimed at more than 50 Democrats who voted against repeal.