An earlier version of this story should have made clear, in a quote in which Simon Lazarus of the National Senior Citizens Law Center explained a legal argument used by opponents of the law, that Lazarus himself strongly disagrees with the argument. This version has been clarified.
Senate rejects repeal of health-care law as fight shifts to courts
The Washington Post
Thursday, February 3, 2011
On Capitol Hill, the battle over the health-care overhaul law has become a kind of scripted political theater. On Wednesday, Republicans in the Senate tried to repeal the law, as expected.
Democrats had the votes to beat them, as expected.
But now, the legal fight over the law threatens to overshadow the drama that Washington has been rehearsing.
Two federal judges have struck at a key provision of the legislation, ruling that Congress cannot force individuals to buy health insurance. These cases are almost certainly headed for the Supreme Court, which many predict will decide the law's fate by the spring of 2012.
And now, legal experts say, it seems possible that the high court might strike down all or part of the law.
"Certainly, it's becoming more and more clear that there's a real legal issue here, as compared to a year ago," said Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, "when people said this was just frivolous and had no chance of succeeding."
On Wednesday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly, 81 to 17, to strip an unpopular tax-reporting provision of the law that opponents say overburdens small business. But, in a long day of emotional speechifying, that was about the only thing Democrats and Republicans agreed on.
Republican senators called for a repeal of the health-care overhaul, saying it will burden state and federal budgets with massive new costs. Democrats responded by saying that the GOP has no plan to replace the law.
"Republican Party . . . if you want to repeal, then let's go replace," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) said in a floor speech. "I want to hear their ideas for replacement. I challenge them right here, right now, today, on this amendment."
In the end, the repeal was defeated, 51 to 47. All Democrats present voted to keep the law. All Republicans present voted to repeal it. Now, the two parties will settle in for a year of smaller battles, both believing that time is on their side.
"There's a narrative I've seen and read out there that this was somehow a futile act because Republicans didn't have the votes to repeal Obamacare. But I have to tell you, these are the first steps in a long road that will culminate in 2012 whereby we will expose the flaws and the weaknesses in this legislation," Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) said at a news conference held by GOP leaders after Wednesday's vote.
Republicans in Congress will seek to deny the Obama administration the money it needs to implement parts of the law. They could try to strip out specific provisions, such as some of the cuts to Medicare.