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Republicans push repeal of health-care law, reject new CBO estimates on deficit impact

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 5:08 PM

New Speaker of the House John A. Boehner and other Republican lawmakers pressed ahead with plans Thursday to repeal last year's landmark health-care legislation, rejecting a new Congressional Budget Office estimate that doing so would increase the federal deficit and brushing off Democratic complaints that Republicans are already breaking their promises.

In his first news conference since becoming speaker Wednesday as the new Republican-majority House took office, Boehner (R-Ohio) said the House is expected to vote next week to repeal what he repeatedly called the "job-killing health-care law." The law, enacted in March, was President Obama's signature domestic achievement, and the nonpartisan CBO projected that it would reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over the first 10 years and $1.2 trillion over the second decade.

A new CBO estimate released Thursday forecasts that repealing the law would increase federal budget deficits by roughly $230 billion from 2012 to 2021. In addition, the CBO says, the Republican-sponsored repeal legislation "would increase federal deficits in the decade after 2019" by about half a percent of gross domestic product. U.S. GDP currently stands at about $14.7 trillion.

The CBO estimate also projects that about 32 million fewer Americans would have health insurance in 2019 if repeal were enacted. It says that "premiums in the individual market would be lower, on average," under the GOP repeal legislation but that "many people would end up paying more for health insurance" because the repeal would eliminate subsidies in insurance exchanges.

Asked about the CBO estimates and how repealing the health-care law would fulfill GOP pledges to cut the nation's debt, Boehner was dismissive.

"Well, I do not believe that repealing the job-killing health-care law will increase the deficit," he replied. "CBO is entitled to their opinion, but they're locked within constraints of the 1974 Budget Act."

Pressed on why Republicans are exempting the repeal legislation from his own requirement to "offset" increases to the deficit, Boehner said: "Well, if you believe that repealing Obamacare is going to raise the deficit, then you would have to have some way to offset that spending. But I don't think anybody in this town believes that repealing Obamacare is going to increase the deficit."

In his initial news conference as speaker, Boehner also said he was pleased with new House rules adopted Wednesday. "Gone are the days when the bills will be written in the speaker's office and rushed to the floor in a matter of hours," he said.

But his pledge of greater "openness" came under attack Thursday from Democrats in an emergency meeting of the House Rules Committee to consider the Republicans' opening legislative salvo, the "Repeal of the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." Democrats charged that the new majority is going ahead without a single hearing on the legislation and under rules that do not allow any amendments.

Republicans are "advocating for a piece of legislation that has had no hearings," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told his GOP colleagues. "Nobody's had any input, Republican or Democrat, and you're all advocating a foreclosed process to bring it up on the floor. So . . . you've been in for 24 hours, and already you've broken your promise."

In response to such criticism, Boehner said in his news conference: "I promised a more open process. I didn't promise that every single bill was going to be an open bill."

Boehner also rejected Democratic charges that the House Republicans' efforts to repeal the health-care law are ultimately pointless, because a repeal bill is unlikely to be passed or even taken up in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and even if such a bill did reach Obama's desk, he would undoubtedly veto it.

"No, I do not," Boehner said when asked if he thought the repeal effort was "a waste of time." He said Republicans are doing "what we said we were going to do, and I think it's pretty clear to the American people that the best health-care system in the world's going to [go down] the drain if we don't act."

Boehner pledged that Republicans would "replace" Obama's health-care law with "common-sense reforms that'll reduce the cost of health insurance in America." However, GOP leaders have decided not to link any replacement provisions with their repeal legislation.

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