- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The House voted Wednesday to repeal a part of President Obama’s health care law deemed unsustainable by his own administration, sending the bill to the Senate, where Democrats have indicated they aren’t ready to kill the long-term care program.

More than two dozen House Democrats broke party ranks to join Republicans in a 267-159 vote to repeal the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act - a part of Mr. Obama’s signature health care reform aimed at providing long-term coverage for the elderly and those with disabilities.

But putting together a filibuster-proof majority to repeal CLASS in the Senate is another matter: Sen. John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who has tried to push a repeal through the upper chamber, acknowledged Tuesday he’s unlikely to gather the necessary 60 votes.

The White House has virtually abandoned CLASS but still opposes an election-year repeal - putting more pressure to Democrats to hold the line.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius effectively suspended the program last fall, conceding she couldn’t find a way to make it pay for itself. And the Congressional Budget Office took the program off the books, releasing lawmakers from budget rules that would have otherwise required them to replace the lost savings.

Seeing an easy window for repeal, Republicans jumped on the chance to do away with part of the Affordable Care Act and possibly score points with voters this fall.

But Democrats fought the repeal effort Wednesday, after defending CLASS against Republican attacks over the past few months, insisting it be kept on the books until Congress comes up with a replacement program that accomplishes the same thing.

“Republicans continue to propose various repeals of the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey Democrat. “They never come up with any meaningful alternatives, and the same is true today. We should mend the CLASS Act and not end it.”

But Republicans reiterated their calls for scrapping CLASS.

“Let me remind my colleagues that under the CLASS Act, there’s not one person in the United States who would receive benefits because it doesn’t work,” said Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican. “Shelving this failed program is not enough.”

A priority of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who died in 2009, CLASS offered daily cash benefits to beneficiaries who paid a $50 monthly premium. Because Medicare covers only a small portion of long-term care needs, some senior citizens who lack private coverage spend themselves into poverty until they are eligible for long-term care under Medicaid.

CLASS would have saved $86 billion over the next decade as folks paid in, but it would have become a long-term burden as they started to collect future benefits.

Senate Republicans applauded the House vote, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasting Mr. Obama for holding onto the program.

“The president is so determined to distract people from his own legislative record that he doesn’t even want to have a conversation about it,” Mr. McConnell said. “He’s so determined to convince people that the ongoing economic crisis is somebody else’s fault that he’s acting as though the first three years of his presidency never even happened.”

• Paige Winfield Cunningham can be reached at pcunningham@washingtontimes.com.

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