By Alexander Bolton - 02/02/11 01:32 AM EST
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will force an up-or-down vote on the repeal of healthcare reform on Wednesday, testing the unity of Democrats who had promised the rollback would never see the light of day in their chamber.
The vote in the Senate will come two weeks to the day after the House voted, largely along party lines, to repeal the healthcare law.
In a statement, McConnell said the repeal vote gives Democrats a chance to “reevaluate” their support for the controversial healthcare law, which a federal judge in Florida struck down as unconstitutional on Monday.
“For all those who supported the health law, it’s an opportunity to re-evaluate your vote. To listen to your constituents who are desperately trying to get your attention. You can say, ‘Perhaps this was a mistake. We can do this better.’ Or you can continue to dismiss the majority of the people in this country as not knowing what they’re talking about.”
McConnell offered the repeal as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s not every day that you can get a second chance on a big decision after you know all the facts,” McConnell said in the statement.
The vote will force Democrats — some of whom were not present for the final vote approving the healthcare legislation last March — to affirm their support for keeping a law that polls have shown is increasingly unpopular with the public.
Republicans made a promise to “repeal and replace” the healthcare law, one of the central messages of their midterm election campaign.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a freshman Democrat facing reelection in 2012, told The Hill he would not support repeal despite his vocal criticism of the law’s individual mandate to buy insurance.
“Sen. Manchin strongly believes that the healthcare law needs to be repaired,” communications director Emily Bittner said. “Sen. Manchin also believes that it doesn’t make common sense to throw out the good parts of this bill, so his priority is to make every effort to repair the bill before we start talking about repeal.”
Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), had initially vowed to block the repeal legislation passed by the House, defying pressure from Republicans to allow an up-or-down vote.
But Reid agreed on Tuesday to allow the procedural vote on repeal because Republicans did not filibuster the motion to proceed for the FAA bill. Democrats are hoping to pass the FAA legislation quickly and have touted it as the starting point for their new job-creation agenda.
“We want to have a debate on aviation transportation. But the Republicans obviously want to do something on healthcare. And so we want to get this out — we want to get this out of their system very quickly,” Reid said.
Reid was quick to note that the GOP’s repeal effort “isn’t going anywhere” in the Senate. Democrats plan to raise a budget point-of-order objection to McConnell’s amendment by citing a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate that repeal would add $230 billion to the federal deficit.
“It’s a deficit-buster, to say the least,” Reid said of the amendment.
Republicans have discounted the CBO estimate as inaccurate, arguing it’s based on “budget gimmickry.”
A senior Democratic aide said a vote on the point of order would likely happen on Wednesday. Republicans, who control 47 seats, would need at least 13 Democrats to join them to overcome the 60-vote threshold to waive the objection. No defections among Democrats were expected.
A Senate GOP aide said Democrats should try to find ways to reduce the impact of the law on employers.
“Instead, they’re trying to twist their way out of the spotlight as doing harm to job creators,” the aide said.
Democrats, in turn, accused Republicans of turning their attention away from the nation’s employment woes.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said McConnell’s GOP conference “is bowing to the Tea Party, bowing to the most conservative members of the Republican Party, to indicate that they got the message.”
“That they would throw this in as their first amendment and turn their back on the FAA bill that’s going to create and save so many thousands of jobs across America kind of tells the story: They’re not seriously addressing the No. 1 issue in America — creating jobs,” Durbin said.
McConnell said he is responding to warnings from private-sector employers who say the healthcare law will impose burdensome regulations.
“Opposition to the bill continues to build,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. “And when two federal courts in a row rule that this bill is unconstitutional and we learn every day of some other way it’s not only making healthcare worse but also hurting jobs and the economy, it’s no wonder more Americans support repeal than oppose it, and that the percentage of those who say they support full repeal is higher now than ever.”
A federal judge in Florida ruled Monday that President Obama’s healthcare reform law is unconstitutional because it forces people to buy health insurance. He struck down the entire law, going further than a federal judge in Virginia who ruled just the individual mandate unconstitutional.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) wrote a letter to members of Congress warning that the healthcare law would stifle future job creation.
“Our small-business owners remain deeply concerned that the healthcare law costs too much and further jeopardizes the economic recovery of our nation’s job creators,” wrote Susan Eckerly, senior vice president of federal public policy at NFIB.
“If new taxes, new mandates and new government programs in [the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] remain intact, the law will stifle the ability to hire, grow and invest — key components that are necessary to move America’s economy forward in a robust and meaningful way,” she wrote.
A coalition of more than 250 trade associations, including the National Association of Manufactures and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also issued an open letter Tuesday asking all senators to support repeal.
“The sooner [the healthcare law] is repealed, the sooner Congress, the administration and all stakeholders can start over with a bipartisan and transparent process aimed at consensus, and get healthcare reform right,” the StartOver! coalition said in the letter.
This story was originally posted at 2:12 p.m. and updated at 8:32 p.m.