The Washington Post

House again votes to repeal health-care law, a now-familiar symbolic gesture

House Speaker John Boehner, left, leaves the House chamber on Capitol Hill Wednesday after the Republican-controlled House voted 244-185 to repeal the health-care law. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Republican-led House voted Wednesday to repeal President Obama’s health-care law, a symbolic gesture meant to highlight the GOP’s commitment to ending it despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that it is constitutional.

The vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act was 244 to 185, with five Democrats joining all of the chamber’s Republicans in voting to eliminate the measure.

It was the 33rd time that Republicans have moved to repeal all or parts of the legislation since the party took control of the House in January 2011. It is a now-familiar ritual that the GOP said demonstrates the depth of its opposition. The Democratic-led Senate will not support a repeal.

“I think this is an opportunity to save our economy,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “For those who still support repealing this harmful health-care law, we’re giving our colleagues in the Senate another chance to heed the will of the American people. And for those who did not support repeal the last time, it’s a chance for our colleagues to reconsider.”

Democrats countered that Republicans are wasting time on a settled debate. They said the court ruling is a sign that it is time to move forward with the law’s implementation.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) termed the repeal effort “legislation to nowhere” and said it would result in a loss of protections for millions of Americans who will benefit from the law’s provisions, including free preventive care, removal of lifetime spending limits and the requirement that insurance companies extend coverage to people with preexisting conditions.

Rep. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.) called the vote the Republicans’ “boil-the-bunny moment,” suggesting a GOP obsession similar to that of a lead character in the 1987 movie “Fatal Attraction.”

Of the five Democrats who broke party ranks to support repeal, two — Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.) and Mike Ross (Ark.) — are conservatives who are not seeking reelection. The three others — Reps. Larry Kissell (N.C.), Jim Matheson (Utah) and Mike McIntyre (N.C) — are facing tough reelection battles. Matheson had opposed a repeal but switched his position in the face of a difficult challenge from Mia Love, mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah.

In a sign that the politics surrounding the law may have shifted a degree since the court ruling, some Republicans are emphasizing the need to quickly find other ways to implement those popular aspects of the measure, even as they insisted that it must be repealed in its entirety.

“As a doctor, I fully endorse — and as a Republican, I fully endorse — the goals of the 2010 health law,” Rep. Nan A.S. Hayworth (N.Y.), an ophthalmologist, said on Tuesday. “Every American should have access to good, affordable health care and affordable, portable health insurance.”

In moderate New Hampshire, Rep. Charles F. Bass (R) indicated that he wants to find a way to allow young adults to stay on their parents’ health-care plans and to prevent insurance companies from barring those with preexisting conditions from buying coverage.

Rep. Frank C. Guinta (R-N.H.) said he is “ready to sit down with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle and health-care community members to amend this law as needed.”

Another Republican House member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe the thinking of GOP colleagues, said: “There are more voices now saying we’ve got to have something to replace the law with, and some substance to the replacement, because that’s what they’re hearing back home, because that’s what the other side hits us on. There are stronger calls for that within the conference.”

Those arguments may reflect new poll numbers, which show that the legislation is viewed less negatively than it was before the ruling.

In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week, Americans were evenly split — 47 percent to 47 percent — on whether they support or oppose the law. That represented a significant improvement for the legislation from April, when 39 percent backed it and 53 percent opposed it. One-third of respondents said they favor repealing all or part of the law.

GOP arguments for repeal have shifted since the court ruling. Muted was the argument that requiring all Americans to obtain health insurance by 2014 is an unprecedented and unconstitutional overreach of federal power — a contention that became the emotional grist behind the growth of the tea party movement in 2010.

Instead, Republicans emphasized their beliefs that the law has caused economic uncertainty for American businesses, will cost more than the government can afford and imposes a tax on those who do not comply with the insurance requirement.

With the election approaching, both parties used the vote as an opportunity to energize supporters — with Democrats stepping up their defense of the law even as Republicans characterized the vote as fulfilling an oft-stated promise of the 2010 midterms.

At the NAACP’s national conference in Houston on Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was booed by a Democratic-leaning crowd for promising to try to repeal the law if elected.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats held a news conference with Americans who talked about the benefits they will receive from the legislation. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hit Republicans for voting to repeal a law that includes, among its many provisions, items paring back health-care perks for members of Congress.

Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), a doctor who serves as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, called that argument “typical demagoguery.” He said the public supports repeal, particularly now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the penalty imposed on those who do not buy insurance by 2014 is a tax.

“I don’t think there’s anyone on the other side who could say that if this had been billed as a tax, it would have passed,” he said. “The American people know this is a bad law, and they know that the law needs to go away.”

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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