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House passes health repeal

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 20, 2011

In the first major act of the new Congress, the Republican-led House voted Wednesday to repeal the Democrats' health-care overhaul, fulfilling a pledge that GOP candidates made during the fall midterm campaigns. Three Democrats sided with a unified GOP in the 245 to 189 vote, a largely symbolic step that has little chance of being considered by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has said he will not allow a similar vote.

Republicans vowed to keep pushing to overturn the law. But with no immediate likelihood of that happening, they said they would try to change it by eliminating certain parts of the law, such as a requirement that nearly all Americans obtain health insurance - and working to replace others. They also hope to take advantage of Democratic support for a proposal to remove a tax on businesses, an idea that President Obama has indicated he is willing to consider.

The vote came after a long day of debate in which members of both parties sparred over the benefits and drawbacks of the law. Each side spoke of findinga bipartisan path forward but offered few specifics about what that might look like.

"If we agree that this law needs improving, why keep it on the books?" asked House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). "Let's challenge ourselves to do better."

Democrats said they are receptive to revisiting parts of the far-reaching law. "All important bills - Social Security, Medicare, civil rights laws of the 1960s - they needed to be tweaked," said Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.). "Let us put our heads together and figure out what makes sense."

But Democrats voiced skepticism that the GOP would devise a better plan. "For 12 years they had control of the Congress. For six years they had a Republican president to work with," said Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), vice chairman of the Democratic caucus.

Republicans variously described the law as "socialistic," "a monstrosity" and a "dark chapter" in American history. At the same time, they said they wanted to join with Democrats to find other approaches.

"I'm committed to working on reforms that we both agree on in a bipartisan manner," said Rep. Steve Stivers (Ohio).

Some Republicans said they support certain parts of the law. Among them is a provision that allows young adults to stay on their parents' insurance policies until they turn 26, and another that has created temporary subsidies for special insurance - called high-risk pools - for people with ailments that have led insurance companies to deny them coverage.

But Fred Upton (Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, made it clear that the GOP still favors ideas that many Democrats oppose. They include placing federal limits on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits and giving Americans tax credits to help them pay for insurance.

In the days leading up to the vote, GOP leaders said several House committees would soon convene hearings aimed at finding ways to dissect specific provisions of the law.


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