House GOP to resume health-care repeal effort, but with more civil tone

Colleagues pay tribute to wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during the president's State of the Union address as the Arizona lawmaker begins the next phase of her recovery at a rehab facility in Houston.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 14, 2011; 12:00 AM

House Republican leaders said Thursday that they will begin their effort to repeal the new health-care law next week, a return to normal legislative business after the shootings in Arizona suspended activity on Capitol Hill.

But no one quite knows what normal will look like, following a wrenching week in which members confronted concerns about their own safety and whether their heated rhetoric played any role in last Saturday's shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 18 others.

As Giffords recovers in a Tucson hospital, many of her colleagues in Washington said they plan to change the tone in the House, a body that has served as the epicenter of caustic political debate for the past 20 years.

"It doesn't mean the issues go away, it doesn't mean that the positions on those issues change, but yes, this is going to affect everybody," said Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.).

House Republicans had envisioned repealing the health-care law as a triumphant moment - a chance to vote down legislation that helped inspire the tea party movement.

Instead the effort has become a test of whether Republican leaders can regain the momentum of their big November midterm election wins and fulfill a campaign promise without the rancor that has marked almost every other health-care debate.

The rescheduling of the repeal vote was announced the morning after President Obama issued a call for "a more civil and honest public discourse" during a memorial service for victims of the Tucson attack.

Republicans, who congregated Thursday night at a hotel in Baltimore's Inner Harbor for their annual retreat, said that's what they intend.

They said their goal is to conduct a sober, issue-oriented debate focused on convincing voters that the law needs to end. Party leaders think the law is unpopular, especially among political independents, and a reasoned debate on its merits could amplify its more controversial elements, such as the mandate that people buy health insurance.

"As the White House noted, it is important for Congress to get back to work, and to that end, we will resume thoughtful consideration of the health-care bill next week," said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). "Americans have legitimate concerns about the cost of the new health-care law and its effect on the ability to grow jobs in our country. It is our expectation that the debate will continue to focus on those substantive policy differences surrounding the new law."

Republicans said that Obama's health-care promises - including that the legislation would lower insurance costs and help spur job creation - have not materialized and that they want to keep the debate focused on those matters.

"The president made very specific promises about what the health-care bill would do," Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said Thursday. "We can and should have a debate about the facts of the law and its record."

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