House kills another part of health law

The House on Wednesday voted to terminate another piece of last year's healthcare law — the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which is currently scheduled to receive nearly $18 billion over the next few years. The House vote came just moments after the White House said President Obama would veto the bill if it were presented for his signature.

The bill, H.R. 1217, passed in a 236-183 vote. Only four Democrats supported it, as most argued that killing the program would reduce access to preventive healthcare, lead to higher healthcare costs later on and even destroy jobs in the healthcare industry.

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Republicans dismissed all of these arguments and repeatedly called the program a "slush fund" that the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) can use without any input from Congress. Republicans said the program is so nonspecific in the law that it allows HHS to use it for dubious purposes, such as signs indicating exercise spots.

"Does placing signage for bike paths produce economic activity, or does advocating higher soda taxes benefit the economy?" Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) asked.

Republicans also argued the program could be used to fund elective abortions. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said the healthcare law allows HHS to use the funding for any health initiative under the Public Health Services Act, which could include Title X programs. Title X, the federal women's health program, allocates money to Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions.

"What we fear is that this money may be used for elective abortions, so we're also here today to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves," Foxx said. "This slush fund is yet another Democratic trick to use taxpayer money to subsidize elective abortions."

Foxx added that while federal law prohibits taxpayer-funded abortions, she said that law only applies to discretionary programs, and the Prevention and Public Health Fund is mandatory spending, not discretionary spending.

Just before the final vote, the House accepted one amendment from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) that would require HHS to post a public notice describing how much in unused funding was rescinded by the bill.

But the House rejected two other Democratic amendments that would have required studies of how the elimination of the program impacts health.

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