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House Republicans passed a bill to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care plan Wednesday, taking their first major step toward rolling back the massive overhaul that has dominated the American political landscape for almost two years.
The vote was 245 to 189, and unanimous GOP support gave the vote the same partisan feel of the March vote to pass the law, underscoring once again the hardened political lines of the health care debate. Only three Democrats backed the repeal, a smaller number than Republicans had once predicted.
The bill will head next to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to block it. If it did receive a vote, the repeal bill would be unlikely to draw support from even a majority of senators. Even so, House Republican leaders have challenged Reid to give the bill a vote since Democrats, who control the chamber, have little to fear.
Republicans rejected a procedural maneuver by the Democratic minority to make repeal ineffective unless a majority of the House and Senate withdraw from the federal health benefits program within 30 days after passage by each chamber.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the effort was “an attempt to derail an appeal of the Obamacare bill.”
House members flooded the floor throughout the day, delivering short but occasionally impassioned speeches that echoed their party s talking points.
Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) called the law “a trillion-dollar tragedy.”
Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) described it as “job-killing and socialistic.”
Rep. Kevin Duncan (R-Texas) said “health care is too important to get it wrong, and Obamacare got it wrong.”
But Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) took the debate to a new level late Tuesday night, suggesting to an empty House floor that Republican rhetoric around health care reform is akin to Nazi propaganda that fed anti-Semitism during World War II.
“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels,” Cohen said, referring to a Nazi propagandist. “You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like blood libel. That’s the same kind of thing.”
Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) agreed Wednesday afternoon that the health reform law creates jobs, but sparred on their merits.
Pallone said it’s a good thing that the new law creates jobs in the health-care sector. He also said he was glad to hear Stearns say that the law will create jobs, a point, he says, Republicans won’t concede.
But Stearns fired back, saying the measure creates the wrong kind of jobs.
“Perhaps the gentleman of New Jersey didn’t listen to me when I just spoke,” Stearns said. “It’s creating 150 new government agencies. And these are all government jobs. When we talk about job creation here, that s government jobs.”
The House will vote Thursday to instruct four committees to draft alternative health care proposals that reflect Republican priorities, such as reducing medical malpractice lawsuits, prohibiting the denial of coverage to people with preexisting conditions and barring the use of taxpayer money for abortions.
But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Republicans won’t put a deadline on drafting an alternative to the Democrats’ health care reform law.
“I don’t know that we need artificial deadlines set up for the committees to act,” Boehner said. “We expect them to act in an efficient way, allowing all of their members on their committees to be heard, both Democrats and Republicans.”
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