The House voted largely along party lines Tuesday to repeal and replace Obamacare, with Republicans vowing to satisfy midterm voters who demanded a new path forward while Democrats taunted their rivals as oblivious to the plight of the uninsured.
The 239-186 vote marked the Republican-majority Congress’ first swipe at the entire health law, cuing up a likely filibuster from Senate Democrats before President Obama can wield his veto pen.
While no Democrats defected from the party line, three Republicans voted against repeal — freshmen Reps. John Katko of New York and Bruce Poliquin of Maine, and Rep. Robert Dold of Illinois, who regained his seat after losing it in 2012.
While it will not become law, the measure was designed to let new Republicans to record their opposition to Obamacare and make good on the GOP’s campaign promise to go after the law and replace it.
“We are doing it because the American people have said, ‘We are tired of this.’ It is damaging health care,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, said.
House Republicans have moved to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act more than 50 times, yet Tuesday’s bill ordered Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan and other committee leaders to devise an alternative to President Obama’s reforms.
It’s an elusive, yet suddenly urgent, priority for the party as the Supreme Court weighs a pivotal Obamacare case that could blow a hole in the law’s economics and provide an opening for the GOP’s ideas.
Senate Republicans are mirroring the House’s efforts to replace the law. Together, they hope to force Mr. Obama into signing legislative concessions if the justices strike down the law’s subsidies in 34 states that use the federal exchange.
“With the Supreme Court case looming, this body must be prepared to work for the American people and stave off possible chaos that may ensue,” Rep. Michael Burgess, Texas Republican, said.
House GOP aides described a working group set up by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to prepare for the ruling as a serious attempt to forge “patient-centered” solutions and reduce uncertainty caused by Obamacare.
They said while there is no meeting schedule as of yet, the chairmen involved — Mr. Ryan, Rep. Fred Upton of Energy and Commerce Committee and Rep. John Kline of the Education and Workforce Committee — speak frequently on the phone, on the House floor or through staff, so they’ve begun in an informal capacity.
Pressed for details, Mr. Kline said it was early in the process, but that the group is working along two tracks — first deal with people who could be affected by the justices’ ruling, and then grapple with Obamacare overall.
“We’re working both, and it just takes some time,” he said in a brief hallway interview.
Unpersuaded Democrats mocked the Republican effort. Most colorfully, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts suggested the GOP plan would be “flown in on a unicorn sliding down a rainbow.”
Renewed efforts to kill Obamacare come as the administration tries to push uninsured Americans into the law’s health exchanges before the Feb. 15 deadline to sign up. At least 9.5 million Americans had signed up for 2015 coverage on the exchanges through mid-January.
Hours before the vote, Mr. Obama welcomed to the White House a pool of people who say they’ve benefited from the law.
“I don’t know whether it’s the 55th or the 60th time that they are taking this vote,” Mr. Obama said of the House. “But I’ve asked this question before: Why is it that this would be at the top of their agenda, making sure that folks who don’t have health care aren’t able to get it?”