By Elise Viebeck and Pete Kasperowicz - 07/12/12 12:57 AM EDT
The House voted again Wednesday to repeal President Obama’s healthcare law, a largely symbolic gesture that gave Republicans some revenge against the Supreme Court ruling that declared the law constitutional.
Republicans also see it as a way to motivate their base this fall as they fight to keep control of the lower chamber, win the Senate and take the White House.
Members approved the repeal legislation on a 244-185 vote, after five hours of debate that stretched over two days.
Five Democrats, most of them facing tough reelection bids, supported the repeal effort alongside the GOP, prompting the Republican National Committee (RNC) to declare the result “bipartisan.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed to push for a repeal vote against the “worst piece of legislation … in modern times.”
His effort, attached to a small-business tax bill, is nearly identical to the GOP-passed bill.
McConnell also sought to tie the healthcare law to the slow economy — the prevailing Republican message since the Supreme Court upheld the law’s central provision as a tax.
“The Republican leadership in the House has once again fulfilled its commitment to protect the American people from the tax hikes and mandates in ObamaCare … that are making it harder for small businesses to hire,” McConnell said.
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has vowed to block any votes to undo the law, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) cast the House bill as a way to give the Senate another chance for repeal.
“For those who still support repealing this harmful healthcare law, we’re giving our colleagues in the Senate another chance to heed the will of the American people,” Boehner said. “And for those who did not support repeal the last time, it’s a chance for our colleagues to reconsider.”
The Senate voted on a repeal measure in February 2011. All Democratic senators supported keeping the law, while all Republicans voted to repeal it.
The Obama administration said on Monday that it would veto the bill if it somehow made it through the Senate.
“The administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 6079 because it would cost millions of hardworking middle-class families the security of affordable health coverage and care they deserve,” the White House said in a statement. “It would increase the deficit and detract from the work the Congress needs to do to focus on the economy and create jobs.”
Despite the June Supreme Court ruling upholding the law, the veto threat from Obama and Reid’s vow to kill a repeal effort in the Senate, the House vote came down as expected.
The five Democrats who supported repeal were Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.), Larry Kissell (N.C.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Mike Ross (Ark.).
Matheson voted against the original law but did not vote for its repeal last year.
In a statement after the vote, Matheson, who faces a tough reelection bid, said he had voted against the healthcare bill “at every opportunity” but did not mention last year’s opposition to repeal. He cited statistics showing that healthcare costs are still projected to rise at a greater rate than the economy, indicating the law has had little if any impact.
“With the Supreme Court ruling behind us, and as I reflect on my conversations with Utahans, I think about protecting the future of our economy,” he said. “We must scrap this flawed effort once and for all, start over and do it right.”
Kissell, also in a tough reelection fight, had earlier announced his intention to switch his position on repeal, citing the law’s continued unpopularity with his constituents.
The other three — Boren, McIntyre and Ross — all voted to scrap the law in 2011 and opposed its enactment.
Most Democrats tried to cast the two-day House debate as a waste of time that could have been better used passing legislation that creates jobs, and as a futile attempt to respond politically to the court’s ruling.
“What we’re engaged in here in the House of Representatives right now is a total waste of taxpayer money,” ranking Budget Committee member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Wednesday. “It’s no wonder the American people think so little of this institution.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sought to portray the GOP as fighting a futile war against a major historic moment — one that is comparable to the beginning of Social Security and Medicare.
“The politics be damned,” she told a press conference. “We saw an opportunity to stand with those who created [those programs] and we’re very proud of what we did.”
— Russell Berman contributed to this report.
— Updated at 8:57 p.m.