Vulnerable Dems on hot seat as failure looms on healthcare repeal

The Republican effort to bring down President Obama's healthcare reform law is expected to fail by party lines later Wednesday, but the vote will put vulnerable incumbents on the hot seat in a debate that will likely dominate the election cycle.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the vote on Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) amendment would take place in the late afternoon, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., because many senators want to speak on it.

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Democrats will raise a budget point-of-order objection against the repeal amendment on the grounds that it would add an estimated $230 billion to the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

McConnell would need the support of every Republican senator plus at least 13 Democrats to muster the 60 votes necessary to waive the objection.

He called the budget estimate "preposterous."

“I mean, only in Washington would somebody claim that spending trillions of dollars on a brand-new government entitlement and a massive bureaucracy to go along with it will save money,” McConnell said during a Wednesday morning floor speech.

The Senate will also vote Wednesday on an amendment offered by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who could face a tough race in 2012, to repeal one of the healthcare law’s most controversial provisions. Stabenow’s amendment would strike a requirement that businesses report to the IRS vendor payments exceeding $600 annually.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, said the proposal to repeal the so-called 1099 reporting requirement “has overwhelming support.”

“There is a basic agreement on both sides of the aisle that 1099 should be repealed,” he said.

Both proposals are amendments to the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill.

Stabenow’s amendment will give political cover to endangered Democrats such as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D), who have called for the healthcare reform law to be fixed but do not plan to support McConnell’s proposal to repeal it.

“The president’s plan — ‘Obamacare,’ as it’s been called — is far too reaching. It’s overreaching. It needs to have a lot of it repealed,” Manchin said in October. “If you can’t fix that, repeal the whole thing.”

Manchin said through a spokeswoman Tuesday that he would not vote to repeal the entire law, however.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said he felt confident the Democratic conference would stay unified, though he did not guarantee every Democrat would vote against repeal.

A senior GOP aide said McConnell’s amendment would put Democrats “on the record as hurting job creators.”

Voting for McConnell’s amendment could also open Republican candidates, such as Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine), to political scrutiny.

“They are going to have a hard time explaining why they voted to repeal the most popular consumer protections in the law,” said a Senate Democratic aide.

Democrats argue that McConnell’s amendment would strike down provisions barring insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing medical conditions and letting children stay on their parents’ health insurance policy until age 26.

Republicans have circulated letters from trade associations endorsing repeal.

Groups including the Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the National Federation of Independent Business wrote a letter dated Feb. 1 warning that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will stifle job growth.

“The PPACA will cost jobs as businesses cope with the new costs imposed on them, a profile that is magnified by an economy only now beginning to find its way out of a deep and lengthy recession and still struggling to create jobs,” the groups wrote.

Schumer, who has taken over Senate Democrats' communications strategy, has decided that a strong offense can serve as effective defense of vulnerable incumbents in the healthcare debate.

Schumer scheduled a press conference Wednesday to call on Senate Republicans who vote to repeal healthcare reform to give up the government-subsidized benefits they receive as members of Congress.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) accused Republicans of hypocrisy in a floor speech.

“I think about conservative politicians who have been the beneficiaries — they and their families have been the beneficiaries of taxpayer-financed health insurance for their whole careers,” he said. “Now they want to take benefits away from voters and citizens and families in my state."

Reid said in a floor speech that Republicans “want to take away patients’ rights that they already have, rights that are saving lives, saving money and saving Medicare.”