After a weeklong reprieve from partisan battles, Democrats and Republicans returned to the floor of the House on Tuesday to debate the repeal
of the health care reform
The new bill, due for a vote in the House on Wednesday, is officially known as the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act," and is largely seen as a symbolic gesture. It stands little chance of coming before the Senate for a vote -- where a Democratic majority is firmly in place -- and it faces the threat of a presidential veto should it actually pass both houses.
Despite the seeming futility of the repeal movement, the debate provided both sides of the aisle with a valuable messaging opportunity.
For Democrats, the mere mention of health care reform was virtually radioactive
during the 2010 midterm elections. But now, the repeal effort has allowed, if not forced, them to stand behind legislation passed largely by their own party and to (finally) extoll its provisions, many of which are not understood by the public.
At an unofficial hearing on Tuesday, Democratic congressional leaders sought to highlight several key elements of the current law that would be overturned should Republicans succeed in their repeal effort. They included provisions to:
-- Prevent insurance companies from rejecting coverage to an estimated 129 million Americans
under the age of 65 who have pre-existing conditions;
-- Extend parental health insurance to children under the age of 26;
-- Close the so-called "donut hole
" for seniors relying on Medicare prescription drug coverage;
-- End lifetime benefit caps.
The Democrats also said that an estimated $230 billion
would be added to the federal deficit if the law is repealed.
Democratic leaders, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), heard testimony from Americans who have already seen improved care as a result of the new health care law.
Aligning the Affordable Care Act with landmark legislation such as the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, Clyburn said, "We've heard some of the same rhetoric around patient's rights that we heard regarding voting rights." But he opened the door to possible compromise with the GOP on amending the health care law, saying, "Does this mean changes should not be made? Absolutely not...I hope we can look at bipartisan changes and modifications that would increase efficiency and effectiveness. But do not repeal this fundamental right."
Republicans, for their part, used the debate as proof of their convictions: making good on a campaign promise to repeal the law and focusing the congressional debate on fiscal discipline.
Despite some estimates that the new law will create more than 400,000 new jobs
each year for the next 10 years, House Republicans argued that the health care law would actually be a "job killer," and was fiscally unsound. In particular, GOP members took issue with Congressional Budget Office estimates that repeal of the law would cost $230 billion in the next two years and $1.2 trillion over the next 20 years.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, took to the House floor armed with several oversized flow charts illustrating what he called the actual cost of the new health care law. "This law blows a hole through the deficit," said Ryan, asserting it would cost nearly $2.6 trillion in spending. Claiming that the health care law was part of a "fiscal house of cards," Ryan said that America "was on the path to bankruptcy."
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) echoed Ryan's points, saying the true cost of the new law was underestimated. "The numbers don't quite jive," he said, ascribing it to "the gimmickry in the writing of the bill itself." Reiterating a Republican priority of increased fiscal discipline, Cantor enthused, "Make no mistake -- were gonna cut something!"
But Cantor was quick to say repeal would be followed by a new law that would "emphasize the doctor-patient relationship" and would not base health care reform around "what Washington dictates."
When pressed for details as to what a Republican-approved replacement bill might look like, Cantor deferred to House committees -- including Appropriations and Ways & Means -- that will be tasked with developing alternatives.
To his critics not yet convinced
that a viable alternative would be found, Cantor pledged that American health care would not revert back to the "status quo." Noting the 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, Cantor pledged, "Republicans care about health care."