Senate Dems warn Boehner: Don't bother with healthcare repeal

The 112th Congress doesn't begin until Wednesday, but Senate Democrats are already vowing to block any attempts by the new GOP-led House to repeal the healthcare reform law.  

The Senate's top Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), wrote incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday warning the new GOP House against advancing legislation that would undo the sweeping healthcare overhaul. 

"The incoming House Republican majority that you lead has made the repeal of the federal health care law one of its chief goals. We urge you to consider the unintended consequences that the law’s repeal would have on a number of popular consumer protections that help middle class Americans," the Democrats said.

Democrats said repeal would threaten the consumer protections included in the healthcare package, including the provision that eliminates the so-called "doughnut hole" in seniors' Medicare drug coverage.

"If House Republicans move forward with a repeal of the healthcare law that threatens consumer benefits like the 'donut hole' fix, we will block it in the Senate. This proposal deserves a chance to work. It is too important to be treated as collateral damage in a partisan mission to repeal health care," wrote Reid, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), Democratic Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.) and Policy Committee Vice Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.).

Democrats in the House, meanwhile, are already beginning to organize efforts to throw procedural wrenches into the repeal effort.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) circulated a draft of a "Dear Colleague" letter on Monday encouraging Democrats to co-sponsor amendments they'll offer in the House Rules Committee seeking to protect popular elements of the healthcare law. 

"We intend to offer a series of amendments to their bill at the Rules Committee that will preserve critical provisions of this landmark law that have broad public support. We invite you to cosponsor these amendments," Welch wrote. "You may well have other amendments you would like to offer and we strongly encourage you to do so."

Welch is already planning amendments that "will preserve the elimination on lifetime limits, coverage of individuals up to age 26, the requirement that individuals not be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions and the requirement that preventive care be provided free of charge."

Republicans are expected to act quickly on legislation to repeal President Obama's healthcare plan, perhaps as soon as this week, in order to follow through on a campaign promise. 

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, promised over the weekend that House Republicans would hold a vote on repealing the law before the president's State of the Union address at the end of the month.

The vote on repealing the law is expected to be largely symbolic as long as Obama is in the White House and Democrats control the Senate. It would take a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a presidential veto of the repeal legislation.

The letter from the Democratic leaders may preview the messaging battle to come over the law. Democrats want to highlight popular provisions in the legislation that would be threatened by repeal, such as the ban on insurers rejecting coverage for pre-existing conditions.

"The 'donut hole' fix is just one measure that would be threatened by a repeal effort. Taking this benefit away from seniors would be irresponsible and reckless at a time when it is becoming harder and harder for seniors to afford a healthy retirement," Senate Democrats said in the letter.

But polls have found that other aspects of the bill, including the individual mandate to buy insurance, aren't popular with the public. 

"Maybe it's not ideal — it's certainly not communism," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said of the individual mandate, according to the Toledo Blade


—This article was updated at 3:28 p.m.