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WASHINGTON -- House Republicans voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to repeal the historic health care reform law in a largely symbolic exercise to appease the tea party movement and keep a campaign promise that helped them retake the majority in November.
The 245 to 189 vote fell sharply along party lines. No Republicans voted against the bill. Three Democrats voted to repeal the law.
Even as lawmakers cast their votes on the provocatively named "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act," the measure was as good as dead.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called it, "nothing more than partisan grandstanding at a time when we should be working together to create jobs and strengthen the middle class" and said he didn't intend to bring it to the floor. Even if he did, and enough of his fellow Democrats underwent a partisan conversion to pass it, President Obama has promised a veto.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor urged Reid to change his mind.
"I have a problem with the assumption here that somehow the Senate can be a place for legislation to go into a cul-de-sac or a dead end," he said. "The American people deserve a full hearing. They deserve to see this legislation go to the Senate for a full vote."
There are signs that despite the House vote, the raw emotions over health care reform that fueled raucous town hall meetings and tea party rallies, and catapulted Republicans into the House majority, are abating.
A new Associated Press-GfK poll found opposition to the law easing, with barely one in four favoring total repeal. Support for repeal dropped sharply among Republicans, from 61 percent after the elections to 49 percent now.
A separate Washington Post-ABC News poll also found weak support for doing away with the law in its entirety, with just 18 percent saying all of it should be repealed. Yet another poll revealed a divided public but with the highest percentage saying the law is a good idea since September 2009.
'A promise kept'
"Some in the cynical political class are saying this is a gimmick, an empty gesture," said Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, a possible Republican presidential candidate. "We on the other side call it a promise kept."
That refrain was repeated by Republicans often during the House debate. For even if repeal goes nowhere legislatively after today, health care will play a central role in the 2012 elections. Republicans have made iy clear they will argue that what they derisively call "ObamaCare" should be enough reason to make its namesake a one-term president.
The issue also will live on in the courts; six more states joined a lawsuit in Florida to overturn the historic overhaul. More than half the states, nearly all with Republican attorneys general, are now fighting the law's requirement that all Americans buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.
The House vote came after two days of debate that had been delayed a week because of the tragedy in Tucson. The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the national mourning for those who died served to soften the harsh rhetoric around health care even as the vote was overshadowed by the state visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Republicans reprised arguments that the law would hurt the economy, create an unaffordable new entitlement program and amounts to a "government takeover" of health care.
The law will "increase spending, increase taxes and destroy jobs," Speaker of the House John Boehner said. "The Congress can do better in terms of replacing ObamaCare with common sense reforms that will bring down the cost of health insurance and expand access for more Americans."
As on the first day of debate, incendiary phrases such as "death panels" were mostly avoided.
But many GOP lawmakers waded back in to the sort of language widely questioned after Giffords was attacked.
Lee Terry of Nebraska called the law "a trillion dollar tragedy" and a "job killer." Jeff Duncan of South Carolina rose in favor of repealing the "job-killing, socialistic and out-of-touch health care bill." Mo Brooks of Alabama assailed "Obama's socialized medicine" and Steven Palazzo of Mississippi called the law a "monstrosity."
John Kline of Minnesota, in seeking repeal of the "job-killing legislation," said it was a "first step toward the right kind of reform."
Not that all Democrats have kept a civil tongue on the issue. On Tuesday, Tennessee Democrat Steven Cohen accused Republicans of using the Nazi's "big lie" strategy to discredit the health care law.
Republicans say they want to replace the Affordable Care Act with many of the same provisions they sought to repeal, such as allowing parents to keep children on their health insurance until age 26. GOP leaders have offered few details but intend to discuss their plans at a news conference Thursday.
Democrats spoke of constituents they said would be hurt by repeal. They accused the GOP of being in the pocket of insurance companies in seeking to return to a time when they could deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and cap lifetime benefits to the sickest people.
"This is the Harry Houdini health care strategy," railed Democrat Joseph Crowley of New York. "Now you have health care coverage, now you don't."
Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., asked whether seniors on Medicare who had received $250 checks to cover prescription drug costs would have to give the money back if the law is repealed. "I would yield to anyone who would answer," he said. No Republican replied, although Cantor said seniors would not have to pay the money back.
Wednesday's vote was the culmination of a 10-month backlash against the historic health care law that included countless reports, briefings, op-eds, newspaper ads, blog posts, testimonials and unofficial hearings. Republicans offered a letter from 200 economists and experts opposing the law. Democrats issued a statement from 100- plus legal scholars attesting that the law is constitutional.
In a last-minute maneuver to put Republicans on the spot -- and give themselves fodder for future campaign ads -- Democrats introduced a motion to make repeal ineffective unless a majority of the House and Senate give up their federal health benefits within 30 days of passage by both houses of Congress.
"Americans have a right to know that those who support repeal are willing to live without the same benefits they are denying their constituents," a Democratic leadership aide said.
Although 14 House Republican freshmen have turned down government-provided health care, the measure failed.
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