By Russell Berman - 01/19/11 05:40 PM EST
House Republicans are set to vote Wednesday on repeal of the healthcare law, keeping a central campaign pledge while delivering an opening salvo in what will likely be a two-year battle with President Obama.
The vote to roll back Democrats’ signature domestic achievement of the 111th Congress is scheduled to occur some time after 5 p.m., and both Republicans and Democrats held closed-door meetings Wednesday morning to hone their final arguments.
“I just think it’s time to listen to the American people and do this the right way,” Boehner said. “Congress can do better, in terms of replacing Obamacare with commonsense reforms that will bring down the cost of health insurance and expand access to more Americans.”
The vote is expected to be symbolic, as Democratic leaders in the Senate have vowed to shelve the repeal bill and Obama has said he would veto repeal if it ever reached his desk.
With those threats in mind, GOP leaders dared the Senate, in advance of Wednesday’s vote, to take up the measure as well.
“The American people deserve to see a vote in the Senate, and it ought not to be a place where legislation goes into a dead end,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said.
Cantor noted that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) had said the debate over repeal of healthcare would be a “political win” for Democrats.
“If so, let’s see the votes,” Cantor said.
Absent action in the Senate, Republicans defended their move to hold a repeal vote as upholding a key tenet of the “Pledge to America” unveiled during the midterm election campaign.
“Today we are keeping that pledge, and it is a start,” GOP whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said.
If repeal is ultimately unsuccessful, Cantor said Tuesday, Republicans would “do everything we can to delay and defund the provisions of the bill.”
The Obama administration and congressional Democrats have mounted a full-throated campaign to defend the healthcare law, using the repeal effort to increase support for a measure that, over all, never gained popularity with the public.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who as Speaker shepherded the reform law to passage last year, staged a hearing on Tuesday featuring testimony from citizens who said they’d be negatively affected by repeal.
“Democrats have made a firm commitment: that we will judge every proposal that comes before us as to whether it creates jobs, strengthens the middle class, and reduces the deficit. The repeal of the patients’ rights fails on all three counts,” Pelosi said.
The secretaries of Health and Human Service and Agriculture, Kathleen Sebelius and Tom Vilsack, attended the House Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday morning.
After Wednesday’s vote, which is expected to pass along party lines, Republicans will bring up a measure on Thursday to instruct House committees to draft replacement legislation.
There is no timetable for that bill, however, and Boehner said Wednesday he saw no need to set “artificial deadlines” for the committees to complete legislation.
Democrats have been giving Republicans flak for repealing some of the law’s consumer protections — including coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions and the ability for grown children to remain on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26 — without a plan to replace them.
“Repeal and replace” had been the GOP’s campaign mantra.
The repeal vote was delayed a week after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in Arizona, and lawmakers from both sides demonstrated visible restraint in their rhetoric discussing the bill. While Republicans have not removed the “job-killing” description from the official title of the repeal bill, none of the six party leaders holding a press conference Wednesday used that term; instead, they referred repeatedly to the 2009 law as “job-destroying” legislation.