The Senate will take a test vote as early as today on Republicans’ bid to repeal the U.S. health- care overhaul, President Barack Obama’s biggest domestic achievement.
Even as Democrats who control the Senate expressed confidence they can defeat the effort with procedural tactics, Republicans said they will continue their drive to take apart the law enacted last year. They want to compel votes that keep Democrats on record favoring the overhaul, which eventually may prove tough for those from Republican-leaning states.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky yesterday introduced the repeal, passed last month by the Republican-controlled House, as an amendment to legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.
“It’s an opportunity to re-evaluate your vote, to listen to your constituents who are desperately trying to get your attention,” McConnell said. “You can say, perhaps this was a mistake. We can do this better. Or you can continue to dismiss the majority of people in this country as not knowing what they’re talking about.”
Democratic leaders said they are glad to defend an overhaul that expands prescription drug coverage for seniors, bars insurers from dropping coverage for pre-existing conditions, and includes other provisions attractive to the public. Republicans have no real ideas for replacing the health law, said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democratic leader.
Repeal ‘Good Things’
“What the other side is saying is just repeal, repeal the good things,” Schumer said. “ And leave us with nothing.”
Leadership aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the two sides were working toward a plan to have a procedural vote today on the Republican repeal measure and a separate vote on a proposal to eliminate a small business tax-filing provision that was part of the overhaul and that both parties oppose.
McConnell said all 47 Senate Republicans will vote for the repeal.
“We pledged to the American people that we would seek to repeal the 2,700-page bill that seeks to restructure all of American health care and put the decisions in Washington,” McConnell said. “It’ll be clear who is for repeal and who isn’t.”
The health-care law cleared Congress with no Republican support last year when Democrats controlled the House and Senate. It extends coverage to an estimated 32 million uninsured Americans, imposes new taxes on the highest wage-earners and on medical-device makers and other health care industries, and provides hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare savings.
Democrats control the Senate 53-47, a majority that includes two independents who usually side with them, so Republicans lack the votes needed to push through a repeal. Even if they could, it would face a certain veto by Obama.
Lawmakers in both parties said public opinion is on their side.
“Four out of five Americans want us to continue to move forward on health care reform; mend it, but don’t end it,” said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat. “If you’re going to change any provisions, fine, make it better. But don’t repeal health care reform.”
Durbin said Republicans are “bowing to the Tea Party, bowing to the most conservative members of the Republican Party, to indicate that they got the message.”
Reid said the repeal is “not going anyplace,” and called it “a deficit buster to say the least.”
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said on Jan. 6 that the House-passed repeal measure would raise the budget deficit by $145 billion between 2012 and 2019 because it would cancel tax increases and cost efficiencies in the law.
McConnell advanced his amendment a day after a federal judge in Florida ruled the overhaul unconstitutional, saying Congress exceeded its authority by requiring people to buy insurance. The Justice Department said it will appeal the decision.
A second proposed amendment to the FAA bill, by Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, would accomplish a goal that has bipartisan support. It would eliminate a provision in the health-care law that forces businesses to file 1099 tax forms for any vendor with whom they have at least $600 in transactions.
The provision is intended to prevent vendors from underreporting income and underpaying taxes. It would generate $1.9 billion annually in taxes that would be used to help pay the cost of the overhaul.
Business groups have complained the rule is onerous. Even though many lawmakers want to do away with it, the two parties are split on how to make up the lost revenue.
Also yesterday, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Barrasso of Wyoming introduced legislation to let states opt out of portions of the overhaul. They said Republicans will work to attach that measure to legislation in coming months.
Because most of the law doesn’t take effect immediately, opponents have many opportunities to try to chip away at it, said Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the chamber’ss third- ranking Republican.
“You won’t see it all in one day,” Alexander said. “We have time to identify the steps that will meet our major objective, which is to lower the cost of health care, so that more Americans and more American businesses can afford it.”
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