By Jason Millman - 01/20/11 05:16 PM EST
A day after House Republicans struck down the sweeping healthcare reform law, the GOP started laying the groundwork for a healthcare agenda that includes limits on abortion and investigations into the reform law’s implementation.
The House approved a resolution Thursday morning that instructs key committees to consider replacement pieces to the reform law. And the leaders of House panels charged with replacement previewed their plans during a Thursday afternoon press conference.
Democrats continued to criticize Republicans for moving ahead with repeal without having a plan to replace the law’s consumer protections, such as a ban on lifetime coverage limits and discounted drugs for seniors.
"It's a series of talking points," Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) said on the floor. "It's a press release. Instead of repeal and replace, it's repeal and relax."
Meanwhile, Republicans on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee announced plans to probe implementation of the reform law by the Obama administration’s health department. Committee Republicans asked the Department of Health and Human Services to provide detailed information on groups requesting and receiving exemptions to any of the reform law requirements.
Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Fred Stearns (R-Fla.) called it “troubling” that HHS has the power to exempt certain groups from the reform law’s new insurance requirement on annual dollar limits.
House Republicans on Thursday also unveiled two bills that seek to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortions, the opening salvo in what's certain to become a bitter political dispute.
"A ban on taxpayer funding of abortion is the will of the people," House
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a press conference, "and it ought
to be the [law] of the land."
The first bill, the Protect Life Act, would rewrite reform law provisions to ensure it does not allow for taxpayer funding of abortion. It is modeled after an amendment to the House reform bill introduced last year by former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) that didn't make it into the final law. The second bill, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, would establish a permanent, government-wide ban on federal subsidies for abortion and healthcare plans that cover abortion.
"When the healthcare reform bill was signed into law last year, the administration chose to shut their ears to the will of the American people and move forward with a plan to expand abortion access," said the chairman of the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), who sponsored the Protect Life Act.
It’s unlikely that Wednesday night’s vote to repeal the reform law will gain any traction in the Senate, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promising to block the bill from coming to the floor.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) challenged Reid this week to allow a repeal vote on the floor. And Wednesday night, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) assured supporters the Senate will vote on repeal.
However, Reid provided a one-word answer to McConnell’s assurances Wednesday night: “Unlikely.”
With the repeal vote stalled in the Senate, Republicans also launched their first effort to defund the reform law. The Republican Study Committee (RSC) targeted reform law funding in a proposal to slash $2.5 trillion in federal spending. The plan would ban fiscal 2011 funding from being used to carry out any of the reform law’s provisions, and prohibit the administration from defending the reform law against the numerous court challenges.
The RSC also proposed to repeal increased Medicaid funding to the states provided by the 2009 stimulus act for a projected savings of $16.1 bilion.
Committee chairmen charged with replacing the reform law provided few details on their plans Thursday afternoon. Echoing what Boehner indicated Wednesday, the committee chairs said there is no deadline for developing alternatives.
"[Boehner] expects us to use regular order," said House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) "As my colleagues have stated, we're going to have hearings, we're going to listen to both sides of issues, we're going to do markups in regular order and so we're going to let the committee process move us forward."
The chairmen, previewing a top priority, will put an emphasis on medical liability reform as a way to reduce healthcare costs. Some pointed to an October 2009 Congressional Budget Office analysis that said medical liability reform would cut $54 billion from the federal deficit over 10 years.
"There's a big chunk right there," Kline said.
The House did agree on one bipartisan measure Thursday morning. The lower chamber approved a Democratic amendment from Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah) — with just one dissenting vote — that calls for a permanent solution to the Medicare payment physician formula. Congress voted five times last year to stave off scheduled rate cuts to Medicare doctors.
Republicans said the vote on the measure — considered non-controversial — was proof that Democrats and Republicans can work together on reforming healthcare.
“We have made it very clear we are already beginning at this juncture to work in a bipartisan way,” Dreier said.
—Pete Kasperowicz and Julian Pecquet contributed.
This article was last updated at 1:57 p.m.