House votes to repeal ObamaCare

The GOP House on Tuesday voted for the fourth time to completely repeal ObamaCare, but this time with instructions for several committees to replace the healthcare law with new policies.

Passage fell largely along party lines by a vote of 239-186. Every Democrat in the chamber opposed the measure, and three Republicans, Reps. Robert Dold (Ill.), John Katko (N.Y.) and Bruce Poliquin (Maine) voted against repeal.

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This is the first time the House has coupled an ObamaCare repeal vote with instructions to write a replacement, but they included a significant caveat.

The legislation doesn’t impose any deadlines on committees to finish their work.

The biggest potential roadblock for the healthcare law could be at the Supreme Court, which, in March, will hear arguments on whether the federal government can provided subsidies for consumers to purchase healthcare coverage in states that did not set up their own health insurance exchanges.

The case, King v. Burwell, could potentially cripple ObamaCare, as it would eliminate subsidies for people whose states chose not to set up exchanges in defiance of the law.

A decision in the case is expected by late June.

Tuesday's vote is nearly the 60th in the last four years in the House to undermine or repeal the law, since Republicans took over the chamber in 2011.

The last full repeal vote was in May 2013.

A primary reason for scheduling the vote was to give the 47 House GOP freshmen a vote on repealing the law. All 47 had campaigned saying they would vote to end the healthcare law.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last week appointed a “working group” comprised of top committee chairmen to come up with a strategy to replace the Affordable Care Act. The group's members are House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Ryan GOP lawmakers give Trump bad reviews on debate performance Team Trump: Debate won’t move needle in race for White House GOP rebuffs call to uphold Obama veto MORE (R-Wis.), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), and Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.). 

Republicans have been united since the healthcare overhaul was enacted in 2010 on the “repeal” aspect of their platform, but have yet to coalesce around how to “replace” the law.

In explaining Tuesday’s vote, McCarthy argued the GOP was representing its constituents.

“Today, the House will vote on a bill that we have voted on many times in this chamber. You want to know why? The answer is very simple. The law is a disaster,” McCarthy said.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDems gain upper hand on budget Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks Overnight Energy: Judges scrutinize Obama climate rule MORE (R-Ky.), said no decision had been made yet on when the House-passed repeal measure would hit the Senate floor.

McConnell repeatedly pledged before becoming the majority leader in January that the Senate would vote to repeal ObamaCare under his watch.

Republicans have been weighing in recent months whether to use an obscure budget tool known as reconciliation to repeal the law, as it would only require a simple majority in the Senate.

Democrats will otherwise filibuster a repeal bill and prevent it from overcoming the usual 60-vote threshold to advance it. But Obama would still veto any measure to undermine his signature legislative achievement, while he's still in office.

The House bill's sponsor, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), said in an interview that lawmakers will face extra pressure because of the looming Supreme Court case on ObamaCare subsidies.

“It’s been a topic of conversation at that retreat and dozens of other conversations. It’s obvious that we’ve got a likelihood of a court decision going against the administration, and we’ve got to be prepared,” he said.

He added that there are two pieces of the healthcare law he hopes to keep: the protections for people with preexisting conditions and the rule that allows young adults to say on their parent’s plans until age 26.

“I think everybody agrees [on that],” Byrne said.

Democrats lamented the repeated votes to chip away at the healthcare law over the last four years, noting Tuesday's bill came a day after Groundhog Day.

“It's getting old. It's getting boring,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, doubted Republicans would really produce a healthcare reform alternative this time. He noted the House GOP has pledged before to develop a replacement, but it fell through.

“Four years ago, they came up with a similar repeal bill. They said they were going to instruct the committees to come back with an alternative, and they never did. And they never will,” Pallone said.

But Republicans maintained that 2015 would be the year for the party's replacement strategy.

“Not only are we against this awful law, but we are for good patient-centered healthcare, and we are going to provide that plan of action for the American people to see,” said Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.).