What to expect from this week’s vote to repeal the health care law

Chris Moody Contributor
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A warning to C-SPAN junkies: With a House vote coming this week on health care reform repeal, prepare to relive a year’s worth of health care speeches jammed into two very long action-packed days.

The Republican-led House will vote on the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Law Act” Wednesday, allowing for seven hours of debate on the floor that will begin Tuesday. Originally set for last week, Republican leaders rescheduled the vote after the shooting on Jan. 8th in Tucson, Arizona that left six dead and 13 wounded, including Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The move will provide House Democrats with their first major opportunity to defend the law in the new year, and they plan to use it. Armed with a fresh report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that predicts that repeal would increase the deficit by $230 billion over the next ten years, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, will hold a hearing with the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on Tuesday to measure “the impact of the Republican plan to repeal patients’ rights guaranteed to millions of Americans and to put insurance companies back in charge of health decisions.” Not to be viewed as an objective assessment of the law by any means, the meeting will provide Democrats a public forum to outline their case against the law’s repeal.

Most Republicans, however, will likely ignore the CBO report, or say that it is based on faulty numbers. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio recently referred to the CBO’s numbers as a matter of “opinion,” while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia dismissed the scoring as “budget gimmickry.” Expect to see more of that.

House Republicans know full well that the effort to fully repeal the health care overhaul will likely go no further than their chamber — the bill will never be taken up in the Democrat-controlled Senate — but that’s not the point. Conservative candidates campaigned last year on a promise to repeal the law, and from their perspective, the exercises this week are the fulfillment of that vow.

Not to be castigated as merely “the party of no,” Republicans will also consider new bills to replace the “Affordable Care Act” shortly after the repeal bill is passed Wednesday. Republican leaders have said publicly that they support certain parts of the Democrats’ plan, including measures that restrict insurance companies from denying coverage to customers with pre-existing conditions and allow young people to stay on their parent’s insurance plans up to the age of 26. Republicans ideally want to scrub the entire health care law and replace it with a new one that includes those provisions.

Politically, the vote’s timing is imperative. It behooves House Republicans to wrap up their health care repeal bill before President Obama visits Capitol Hill on Jan. 25th to deliver the State of the Union address. Having a completed bill ready to be presented to the Senate will force the president to respond, or worse, ignore the gesture of the House. Either way, completing it will provide Republicans with fuel to further criticize the president for appearing out of touch.

Beyond the symbolic gestures, there are some points of agreement between the parties that could actually result in tweaks to the law. There is support, for example, on both sides to repeal an onerous mandate in the law that forces businesses to report to the Internal Revenue Service if it spends more than $600 on services from another company. Top Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and Majority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, have all said there is a wide constituency within the party in favor of  re-examining points of weakness within the health care law.

But to arrive at those points of agreement, Congress will have to get through seven hours of floor speeches, a mock hearing and a whole lot of partisan sniping first.

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