In the first health-care vote since Democrats seized the House majority, the chamber on Wednesday gave itself the power to intervene legally after a federal judge ruled that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional.
Wednesday’s vote was largely symbolic — Democrats voted last week to authorize legal action as part of a broader rules package — but it was the first time that lawmakers were presented with a discrete measure dealing with what was a dominant issue in the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
In forcing the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was crucial in ensuring passage of the 2010 law, now has Republicans on record on the lawsuit, and those votes could be used in campaign ads next year.
The measure passed 235 to 192, with all Democrats supporting it and all but three Republicans opposing it.
“A campaign is part of forming a government, and no issue resonated with the American people in the last election like the issue of preexisting conditions,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.). “There’s no arguing with the following statistic, that today, between 17 million and 20 million Americans have health insurance that didn’t have it before the Affordable Care Act.”
In the midterm campaign, Democrats argued that Republican efforts to repeal the ACA would deny the insurance protection afforded to millions of Americans with preexisting medical conditions, a core element of the Obama-era law.
Democrats have said that their singular focus on health care throughout the campaign was a winning political message as they flipped 40 House seats and claimed the majority.
Republicans, led by President Trump, repeatedly said they would ensure coverage for those Americans with conditions such as cancer, diabetes or even a pregnancy, while at the same time backing a lawsuit to invalidate the ACA.
About 20 states with Republican attorneys general sued to invalidate the law, arguing that its coverage guarantee was unconstitutional because the 2017 GOP tax law eliminated the individual mandate. The Trump administration supported the lawsuit, arguing in court that a key part of the ACA was unconstitutional.
In Texas, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled last month that the ACA is invalid because of the change in tax law. His ruling is under appeal, and the law remains in effect pending a resolution.
GOP lawmakers argued Wednesday that the measure was a pointless messaging exercise and that Democrats are papering over problems with the ACA.
“Democrats are trying to sell this farce as a vote to protect people with preexisting conditions, but this is not a health-care vote,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). “This is a vote to give cover because the law they passed was unconstitutional, and the individual mandate was deeply unpopular. They could put an end to this by passing a law that abides by the Constitution, but they are not willing to do that.”