GOP to pressure Obama to support repealing CLASS Act

House Republicans will use Wednesday's hearing on the healthcare law's CLASS Act to ramp up support for its repeal, lawmakers told The Hill.

The hearing by two Energy and Commerce panels is the first time lawmakers will consider the long-term healthcare act since the Obama administration announced it couldn't find a way to make the program work. 

Earlier this month, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said officials were indefinitely suspending the program. That is expected to be the program's death knell, but the White House is against a formal repeal.

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"What bothers many of us is that Sebelius has not definitively said this program is shut down," said Energy and Commerce oversight panel Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.). "It's still on life support and it's still operating with its employees. ... Why is it still up and running? That's what our concern is."

"I think it should be shut down," Stearns added. "And I think we're going to show through this hearing that there's evidence ... that this should not go forward."

Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), sponsor of legislation to repeal the program, said the hearing should help make the case for his bill.

"It's important to get this information out now," Boustany said. "My position is that we should repeal it."

Democrats aren't ready to throw in the towel yet.

The bill's House sponsor, Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), has invited former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) — son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who sponsored the bill — to breathe some passion into Democrats. Kennedy is expected to rip into the administration for abandoning a program championed by his father.

"Sadly, the administration — despite the fact that its own actuaries indicated that CLASS could work on a sustainable basis — could not find a path forward on this important project," Kennedy says in written testimony. "They chose to dismiss it prematurely thus failing to examine every possible option. They offered no alternative for families who need this opportunity."

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told The Hill the financial problems that led the Obama administration to scrap it can be overcome.

"I believe that that's still workable," Larson said. "That's what Congress is all about. We've got to come together and work out a solution."

"The need," Larson added, "is undeniable."

Stearns said he expects many Democrats to nevertheless vote for repeal if a bill comes to the House floor.

"It's like the hearing on Solyndra - they didn't vote for the subpoena [compelling testimony from executives at the government-backed solar energy firm] but now they're all in favor of it," Stearns said. "I think that's the political [lay of the land]: If the Democrats supported a program that cannot pay for itself, under this fiscal crisis there's no Democrat that can support this program."

The top official in charge of the program will testify that starting a program doomed to failure would have hurt people. Kathy Greenlee, the assistant secretary for aging who's in charge of the CLASS Act, will say that putting the program on hold made the most sense.

"One of the main reasons we decided not to move forward with CLASS at this time is that we know no one would be hurt more if CLASS started and failed than the people who had paid into it and were counting on it the most," she said in written testimony. "As prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars and the people we serve, we simply cannot let that happen."

Mike Lillis contributed to this story.