House Democrats sustained President Obama’s veto of an Obamacare repeal Tuesday, defeating the GOP’s deepest salvo yet against the health care law but delivering a rallying cry to conservative Republicans in a pivotal election year.
Republicans wrangled 241 votes, or 44 shy of the two-thirds needed to override a presidential veto, with Democrats decrying the vote as a waste of time.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, though, said holding the vote was critical to drawing distinctions for voters ahead of November’s election, which all sides agree is Republicans’ last best chance to undo the 2010 health law.
“What we are proving today that is if we have a Republican president next year, we will repeal Obamacare and we will replace Obamacare,” said Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.
Armed with twin majorities in Congress, the GOP used a fast-track process known as “budget reconciliation” to pass a filibuster-proof repeal bill in the Senate and gut the Affordable Care Act’s unpopular mandates and taxes, while phasing out its core benefits.
The bill also would have defunded Planned Parenthood for one year, a response to undercover videos that showed organization officials negotiating the sale of fetal body parts. That infuriated Democrats, who pointed to a Texas grand jury’s decision last week to indict the activists who launched the video sting.
Mr. Obama vetoed the reconciliation package last month, and an override was never likely, but Republicans held the vote anyway.
Obamacare is stalling out in its third year, they argue, and constituents want to be shielded from unpopular mandates and coverage requirements that kicked people off bare-bones plans they liked.
“The president is the only person standing in the way of what the American people want,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, Georgia Republican.
New and returning Obamacare customers had until Sunday to select 2016 coverage on Obamacare’s Web-based exchanges. The administration declared victory even as it continued to tally its customer base, boasting they’d beaten last year’s enrollment total, and that enrollees were younger and healthier than in previous rounds. It also said HealthCare.gov is on solid footing after a notorious, glitch-filled start in 2013 tarnished the website’s reputation.
Democrats on Tuesday said repeated efforts to undo Obamacare were “callous” attempts to deny health care to 22 million Americans.
“Here we go again — and again and again. How fitting it is that here we are on Groundhog Day?” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, said, alluding to a 1993 film in which a weatherman relives the same day over and over again.
Mr. Van Hollen said Republican had “a lot of gall” for going after Planned Parenthood, just one week after the Texas grand jury came down hard on its foes.
Planned Parenthood has maintained it did nothing wrong, but Republican leaders have long said its abortion practice does not deserve taxpayer support.
In October, the House set up a select committee to investigate the organization and other abortion providers that harvest fetal tissue for research.
Five pro-choice Democrats told Mr. Ryan to disband the taxpayer-funded probe Tuesday, dubbing it a “witch hunt” that’s been fully discredited by 12 state-level investigations in the organization.
“Enough is enough,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, backed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado and Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.
Leading pro-life Republicans were unbowed by the demands, saying Planned Parenthood was caught red-handed in gruesome and potentially illegal activity.
“Have we lost our capacity to be shocked?” said Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican.