Health-care reform: How Democrats plan to crash House GOP's repeal party

As Republicans move to vote Wednesday to undo Obama's health-care reform bill, Democrats are posing a question to new House members: What would repeal mean to their constituents?

Scott Anderson/Journal Times/AP
Brian Rothgery (l.), Kathy Laru (c.) and Rachel Trobaugh stand outside the downtown office of Rep. Paul Ryan (R) in Racine, Wis. to show their opposition to the possible repeal of health care reform, Tuesday. Democrats hope to show Republicans that their constituents would not view a health care repeal favorably.

After a week’s pause in response to the Tucson shootings, House Republicans are moving quickly toward a vote Wednesday to repeal President Obama’s signature health-care reform legislation.

The move to repeal the legislation – a key pledge of most GOP congressional campaigns – is on track to pass the House on a near party-line vote, then grind to a halt. Senate majority leader Harry Reid has already signaled that he won’t take a House repeal bill to the floor. Even if it cleared the Senate, the White House has promised to veto it.

“It isn’t a serious legislative effort,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs at Tuesday’s press briefing. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere.”

Still, House Democrats and the Obama administration are mounting a strong, 11th -hour bid to shift the outcome. On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report that estimated that up to 129 million Americans have preexisting conditions that could deny them insurance coverage, if consumer protections in the new law were repealed.

At the same time, Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Frank Pallone of New Jersey, top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, released data on the impact of repeal on each congressional district.

'Targeting new members'

“We’re especially targeting new members who have no idea what the consequences of repeal will be for their constituents,” says Mr. Waxman, the outgoing chairman.

But the House GOP’s 87 new members – who accounted for all but nine of the House freshmen – didn’t appear inclined to shift ground. GOP leaders gave their freshmen a prominent role in Tuesday’s opening debate on repeal.

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) of Pennsylvania called the bill “unaffordable.” Rep. Steve Womack (R) of Arkansas dubbed it not a “meaningful, affordable or workable solution.” Rep. Nan Hayworth (R) of New York criticized the bill’s failure to take up the “unconscionable cost of defensive medicine” by not including tort reform.

In response, House Democrats are highlighting the human costs of repeal. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi Tuesday convened what she dubbed the only “hearing” on health-care repeal, including citizens invited to explain how repeal of new consumer protections could hurt themselves or members of their family.

“The most powerful arguments for keeping health-care reform won’t be heard on the House floor,” said House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

That’s why opponents of repeal are focusing on the new data, released Tuesday, in a bid to sway votes – either Wednesday, when the repeal vote comes to the floor, or in the 2012 campaign, when lawmakers again face voters. For example: the Waxman report estimates that 128,000 to 324,000 constituents in freshman Representative Hayworth’s district, including up to 43,000 children, could be denied coverage by insurance companies on the basis of preexisting conditions, if health-care reform were repealed. In addition, some 6,400 seniors could face higher prescription drug costs and 13,000 could lose health insurance coverage.

Vote seen as start of a process

House GOP leaders see Wednesday’s vote as the start of a process. As important as the repeal vote will be instructions to committees to begin work on replacing this health-care law with a bill that starts lowering health-care costs and increasing access, said House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia at a briefing with reporters Tuesday.

“The reality is that the ObamaCare bill did not lower costs,” he said. “It will cost small businesspeople money. It will, in many cases, preclude the hiring of people.”

He challenged Senate Democrats to take up the repeal bill. “If Harry Reid is so confident that the members of that body are where he is, then let’s see a vote in that body,” he said.

If repeal fails, Republicans have another option of slowing the pace of reform by attempting to rein in funding. All spending bills start in the House, and compromise bills require House approval.

If the Senate does not take up the repeal bill, Cantor said, “we’ll do everything we can to delay and defund provisions of this bill until we can get a discussion going to replace it.”

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