Senate Democrats on Wednesday defeated the latest Republican effort to repeal President Obama’s health-care law, signaling that the 2012 elections did little to change the bitter political divisions over the 3-year-old policy.
The vote came as both House and Senate take up their budgets for the coming fiscal year and also debate this year’s spending bills, each of which will have to decide whether to continue funding the health law.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, brought an amendment to the Senate floor Wednesday that would have stopped all funding until economic growth improves, which would effectively shut down the program.
“If we were to fully fund and implement Obamacare now, it could very well push us into a full recession,” Mr. Cruz said in a news conference before the session.
He admitted he didn’t have much hope of pushing it through the Democrat-controlled chamber, and was proved correct when the chamber voted 52-45 along party lines to defeat his amendment.
“Haven’t we decided this?” Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, quipped to Republican floor staff during the vote.
Indeed, by Senate Democrats’ count it was the 34th time Congress has voted on whether to repeal the law.
But it was the first time since last year’s elections, and that gave freshman senators such as Mr. Cruz on the right, and newcomers such as Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota on the Democratic side, a chance to cast their first votes on the program.
It also indicated the years-long fight over the law shows no sign of ending.
Mr. Cruz and fellow conservatives said a new conversation on Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement was necessary to hold colleagues accountable and see who still supports the contentious reforms, even after the Supreme Court upheld the law in June and Democrats saw gains in the November election.
“Number one,” Mr. Cruz said, “Republicans need to stand for principle. That’s what we were elected to do.”
Democrats said it was time for the minority party to get over their opposition to the health-care law and give it a shot. Republicans have tried, unsuccessfully, to take down Mr. Obama’s law more than 30 times, said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat.
“I guess I’m compelled to say, ‘Here we go again,’” Mr. Harkin said from the Senate floor.
He said Republican lawmakers should focus on ways to make the law more efficient, rather than repeal it altogether. Opponents of the law faced dim prospects for repealing it, anyway, after Mr. Obama returned to the White House.
“He won, I think, quite convincingly,” Mr. Harkin said. “It’s time to move on.”
Mr. Cruz’s amendment was part of the debate over a massive spending bill to fund the government for the rest of this year. If it doesn’t pass, the government would shut down — leverage, some Republicans argued, that they could use to force Mr. Obama to cancel his health law.
But House Republican leaders, who control the lower chamber, declined to push that fight. Instead, they are attempting to eradicate Mr. Obama’s law in the long term as part of the normal budget process.
The fiscal-year blueprint released by Rep. Paul Ryan on Tuesday calls for the repeal of “Obamacare” in a bid to cut $4.6 trillion in spending and balance the nation’s books in 10 years.
Conservatives in the Senate said they wanted to see action now. In a floor speech that ranged from employment decisions at fast-food chains to his immigrant father’s economic struggles, Mr. Cruz said the health care law’s taxes, mandates and regulations will kill jobs and cause insurance premiums to soar.