Updated: 7:02 p.m.
Senate Democrats held together Wednesday to beat back Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempt to repeal the health care overhaul law.
The party-line 47-51 vote blocked the Kentucky Republican’s proposed amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill on the grounds that the repeal would add to the deficit. However, the floor action still made good on McConnell’s vow to force a vote on the repeal measure.
Republicans vowed to dismantle the legislation piece by piece, while Democrats called on them to offer improvements and give up on a wholesale repeal.
The chamber also voted Wednesday to repeal a portion of the health care law for the first time. A separate amendment by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) that would eliminate a new 1099 tax reporting requirement for small businesses, which helped pay for the health care overhaul, was adopted 81-17.
McConnell vowed to keep up the pressure for repeal, including fighting funding for implementing it.
“We think this is just the beginning,” he said.
In the meantime, McConnell said he hopes Democrats have “other epiphanies” as they did on the 1099 issue and agree to repeal other sections.
Sen. John Cornyn said the repeal effort would continue both in the courts and in campaigns.
“These are the first steps in a long road that will end in 2012,” the Texas Republican said.
Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer said Democrats welcome efforts to improve the bill and cut health care costs, but the New York Democrat said Republicans have yet to come up with a viable alternative as part of their “repeal and replace” mantra.
He also said the debate gives Democrats a “second chance to make a first impression” with the law. He argued that the overhaul is becoming more popular as provisions start taking effect.
“The parade of horribles is receding because they’re not occurring,” Schumer said.
Republicans, however, argue that the bill is an unwarranted and unconstitutional government expansion that will ultimately add to the deficit, despite a Congressional Budget Office estimate that the law will cut the deficit by $230 billion in the first decade and more than $1 trillion in the second.
Republicans’ next steps are unclear. Those in the House have vowed to defund the health care law, which would spark a showdown with Senate Democrats and the White House.
Republicans in both chambers are also targeting the individual mandate, which requires most Americans to obtain health insurance. A judge in Florida ruled this week that the law is unconstitutional because of the mandate.
Without the mandate, however, Democrats say that either the ban on pre-existing conditions would have to be rescinded or insurance premiums would skyrocket because people would wait until they are sick to buy insurance.
Some Democrats, including Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), are considering altering the mandate to make it more palatable. They would model the change on the Medicare prescription drug program, which charges seniors higher premiums if they wait to sign up.