Senate Democrats on Tuesday vowed to slam the door on Republican attempts to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law while accusing the GOP of turning the bipartisan, jobs-oriented Federal Aviation Administration bill into an unnecessary political fight to satisfy the tea party.
Democrats were reacting to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filing the House-passed health care repeal bill as an amendment to the FAA legislation. A news conference that Democratic leaders had intended to tout the benefits of that bill instead turned into an aggressive denunciation of the GOP’s health care tactics, with Democrats promising to preserve the law even as they remain open to accepting some adjustments.
“Not every bill has to be a fight; not every bill has to be a partisan issue. So it’s disheartening that Republicans are going to turn this bill into a fight,” said Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.), who also serves as Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairwoman.
“What they’re doing is bowing to the tea party,” Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) added. “It’s going to lose.”
Republicans said they were simply responding to the will of midterm election voters, adding that repealing the health care law would cut government spending and boost private-sector job creation.
Freshman Sen. Ron Johnson, the owner of a manufacturing business, said it was important for Senate Republicans to vote on repeal, even though its prospect for passage is bleak and Obama would veto it even if it did clear the chamber. Johnson had never run for office before and was motivated in part by his opposition to the health care law.
“I think it’s extremely important to get people on record,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “The fact that government is so large — it has gotten so burdensome and so intrusive — that creates a high level of uncertainty. It removes confidence from our economy — that affects job creation.”
McConnell moved on the House-passed health care repeal bill one day after U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson — appointed by President Ronald Reagan — ruled the health care law unconstitutional. Democrats are expected to block an actual up-or-down vote on the amendment by raising a budget point of order sometime today on the grounds that repeal would add to the deficit.
Overcoming a point of order requires 60 votes, and it was unclear whether even one Democrat would join with the 47 Republicans in support. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is co-sponsoring a measure to repeal the 1099 provision of the law with Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), made it clear that he does not support repeal even though he has said he would have opposed the new law.
“The main concern I would have is, if they do offer [repeal], what are they going to do to be fiscally responsible?” Manchin said, referring to a Congressional Budget Office analysis predicting that repeal would grow the federal deficit. “I just think that there is so much good we can do by fixing it — working together — than we can by just throwing everything out.”
With the repeal effort set to fail in the Senate, Minority Whip Jon Kyl said his GOP colleagues would take their cues from House Republicans going forward.
“The House Members have talked about a process of taking sections of the bill and trying to remove them from the bill by repeal,” the Arizona Republican said. “My guess is, what the Senate Republicans will do is follow suit. ... The House leadership might start that ball rolling, and we’ll take up what they’re able to do.”
Johanns said he expects his 1099 repeal to be accepted as a part of the amendment package to the FAA bill and was confident it could pass. Johanns announced late Thursday that he had assembled a 60-vote bloc of support, including at least 15 Democrats, and Democratic leaders said Tuesday that they support the repeal of the tax provision.
However, Sen. Debbie Stabenow on Tuesday introduced a similar measure as an amendment to the FAA bill. The Michigan Democrat was previously listed as a co-sponsor of the Johanns proposal, and it was unclear what effect her legislation would have on the effort or whether one vehicle would ultimately be favored over the other.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders conceded a willingness to make additional changes beyond the 1099 fix. “If there are things you think shouldn’t be in the bill, come talk to us,” Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said during floor remarks otherwise focused on urging the rejection of the repeal amendment.
Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.), two Democrats facing tough 2012 re-election fights in Republican-leaning states, signaled that they want to repeal the mandate to buy health insurance that is such an integral part of the statute.
Under McCaskill’s alternative, people who wait to buy insurance when they are sick would pay higher rates. The Missouri Democrat said the Medicare prescription drug plan operates similarly to discourage gaming the system. But McCaskill complained that Republicans are uninterested in fixing the law.
“It’s almost as if the other side doesn’t want to get it repealed and doesn’t want to get it fixed,” she told reporters. “They’d rather use it as a political sledgehammer.”
Senate Republicans have never been shy about plans to use health care to their political advantage. In particular, they want Democratic Senators who are up for re-election next year to take tough votes on the matter. If these Democrats vote to maintain the law, Republicans would use the votes as a political weapon.
If they happen to defect and join Republicans to help repeal the health care law, the GOP will score the policy victory that they think is necessary to reduce unemployment and ease pressure on the deficit.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.