Democrats mounted a preemptive attack as the new Congress gets ready to meet Tuesday, accusing Republicans of “cowardice” for what is expected to be an early-session effort to repeal Obamacare.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, preparing for her fourth straight Congress in the minority — she lost her speakership in 2010, in an anti-Obamacare backlash — now says it’s the GOP that will pay a political price if it moves to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
“You break it, you own it,” the California Democrat said.
She also blasted the GOP for a rules change that would gut the independent ethics office that’s helped oversee House lawmakers for nearly a decade. Instead, the office will be controlled by lawmakers themselves.
“Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
Under the old arrangement, the independent Office of Congressional Ethics received and investigated tips, and then forwarded their work to the Ethics Committee for final action. Republicans would rename the office, turning it into a review panel for the Ethics Committee, rather than an independent body.
The rules change will be voted on Tuesday, as a new Congress is sworn in.
Most of the heavy legislative lifting, however, will wait until later in the month, when the Senate turns to the business of holding hearings on President-elect Cabinet nominees and the House begins work on the agenda Speaker Paul D. Ryan has been plotting for a year.
In the meantime, Congress will busy itself with attempts to leash President Obama in his final weeks in office, spanking him for refusing to protect Israel in a U.N. vote last month and attempting to limit the effects of new regulations the Obama administration spins off in its last days.
The week’s biggest event will come Friday when lawmakers convene to review the vote of the Electoral College, which will officially confirm Mr. Trump as the next president.
Anti-Trump forces are making a last-ditch attempt to derail his ascension, saying the November vote was unfair and demanding Democrats object to the counting. A Change.org petition spurred by the groups says the results in eight states Mr. Trump won should be discounted because of voter-ID and other laws the activists say suppressed Democrats’ votes.
The activists also say more is now known about Russian efforts to interfere with the election than was known on Dec. 19, when the electors cast their votes. The activists want the president to be picked instead by the House of Representatives.
Their petition is directed at Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Ted Deutch and Sen. Barbara Boxer — who as of Tuesday at noon will be retired and no longer in Congress, so she would be of little help.
Also gone from the Senate is Sen. Harry Reid, who like Mrs. Pelosi led his chamber’s Democrats for more than a decade, watching them win a huge majority in 2008, only to see it slip away as the Obama presidency played out.
Mr. Reid’s retirement leaves Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, in charge of the Senate Democratic Caucus, which will account for 48 seats — up two from last year, thanks to victories in November.
As leader, Mr. Schumer will be Democrats’ best hope of preserving Obamacare. Much of the law can be repealed using fast-track budget techniques that only require a majority vote in the Senate — the same method Democrats used to pass part of the law in 2010.
But a replacement, which the GOP has vowed to write, will need to garner 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and Mr. Schumer and his troops could easily block that, if they don’t like the shape of the replacement.
“Where are they gonna get the votes to ‘replace?’” Mrs. Pelosi said in a conference call Monday with House Democrats.
Democrats also said repeal would cause financial problems for the government.
Obamacare raises revenue through tax penalties tied to its insurance mandates, fees on insurers and levies on high earners and some investment income. It also captures hundreds of billions in savings by slowing the rate of growth in certain Medicare payments.
The Congressional Budget Office in 2015 — during a major Supreme Court showdown over the law’s subsidies — said repealing Mr. Obama’s overhaul would hike the deficit by $137 billion in 2016-2015.
House Republicans will take up a rules package Tuesday that allows members to raise a point of order against certain types of legislation that increase direct spending by $5 billion or more, though it carved out an exception for “repealing” or “reforming” Obamacare.
“They really admit that by repealing the Affordable Care Act, it will increase costs,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Moving forward, Mr. Obama will huddle with House and Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill Wednesday to discuss their fight against the repeal effort during his final two weeks in office.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.
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