The House voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to repeal last year’s health care overhaul law, sending the measure to the Senate, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is preparing to force a vote on the issue.
According to a GOP leadership aide, the Kentucky Republican is actively working on a plan to force a showdown on the Senate floor over President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement of his first two years in office. Such a confrontation is likely “in the near future,” the aide said.
“They are discussing how they are going to do it, but they haven’t made a decision,” the aide added.
McConnell offered his congratulations on the 245-189 vote to his House GOP colleagues, none of whom opposed the repeal measure.
“I hope the Senate will soon follow suit with a vote of its own,” he said. “The Democratic leadership in the Senate doesn’t want to vote on this bill. But I assure you, we will.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has repeatedly said he will not bring the repeal to the floor, and Obama has said he would veto it if both chambers passed it.
Nevertheless, Republicans in the Senate have begun agitating for a vote.
“House Republicans have listened to the American people by acting to repeal this law. The question is whether the White House and its allies in the Senate will follow suit and support similar legislation that responds to the will of the people,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking member on the Finance Committee, said Wednesday.
How McConnell will force a vote remains unclear. As Minority Leader he does not set the Senate schedule, and Democrats will likely reject any effort to add the repeal to any other bill that is on the floor.
That does not mean that McConnell is without options. For instance, he could force a vote to suspend the rules in an effort to add the repeal as an amendment to another bill over Democratic objections. But given that such a move would require a 67-vote supermajority, it would certainly fail.
McConnell could also make a motion to proceed to the repeal bill and then file cloture on that motion. Such a maneuver would also prove fruitless, since Republicans are well short of the 60 votes that would be needed to overcome a filibuster by invoking cloture.
But while these and other scenarios have little chance of success, they would provide Republicans with potentially valuable political fodder to use against Democrats during next year’s elections. Republicans could accuse Democrats of stifling debate, and they could offer the votes of moderate Democrats like Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) as evidence of renewed support for the health care law.
Although Republicans insisted that the repeal vote is a political winner for the GOP, House Democrats were not willing to cede any ground.
“I think the vote is good for us because we’re defending things that people want,” Chief Deputy Whip Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said Wednesday.
“The Republicans are running against an abstraction,” he added. “Obamacare abstractly means big government, but when you look behind the curtain and see that it’s health care until you’re 26 and health care for seniors, people say that’s good, we want it.”
Even Democrats who voted against the bill last year largely rejected the repeal measure as inappropriate.
Of the Members who opposed the health care bill and are still in Congress — Reps. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), John Barrow (D-Ga.), Dan Boren (D-Okla.), Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), Tim Holden (D-Pa.), Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Mike Ross (D-Ark.) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) — only Boren, McIntyre and Ross voted for the repeal bill Wednesday.
Before the vote on the repeal, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) broke with much of his Caucus when he voted against a motion to recommit the measure.
The motion would have added language keeping the repeal from going into effect unless a majority of House and Senate lawmakers declined enrollment in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which insures Members. Some Democrats had hoped the motion would draw attention to Republicans who support repealing the health care overhaul while enjoying their own generous insurance benefits.
According to Hoyer spokesman Dan Reilly, the Maryland Democrat’s support for the health care overhaul meant he could not support the motion to recommit. “Mr. Hoyer strongly supports the Affordable Care Act, and there are no conditions under which he would support repeal going forward,” Reilly said Wednesday night.