House vote to send health law repeal to Obama for first time
WASHINGTON - After dozens of failed attempts to undo President Barack Obama's health care law, the GOP-led Congress will finally put a bill on the president's desk Wednesday striking at the heart of his signature legislative achievement.
Obama will veto the bill, and so the ultimate outcome will be the same as the many previous GOP attempts to repeal "Obamacare." But the vote in the House, in its first legislative act of this presidential election year, will mark the first time such a bill makes it all the way to the White House.
Unlike past efforts that were blocked by Senate Democrats, this time the legislation was written under special rules protecting it from a Democratic filibuster. It passed the Senate late last year, and so Wednesday's House vote will send it straight to Obama.
House GOP leaders said the vote and Obama's subsequent veto will lay bare a stark choice between the parties in a presidential election year. The legislation also cuts federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has decried the legislation while leading GOP candidates applaud it.
"We are confronting the president with the hard, honest truth. Obamacare doesn't work," Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters Wednesday. But he acknowledged: "Ultimately, this is going to require a Republican president. That's why our top priority in 2016 is going to be offering the country a clear choice with a bold pro-growth agenda."
However Ryan hedged when asked whether the House will ever vote on a replacement to Obamacare. Ryan has pledged that the House will come up with its own plan this year — something the GOP has repeatedly promised but failed to do in the nearly six years since the law's enactment. He said details such as whether it will actually come to a vote have not been determined.
"Nothing's been decided yet," Ryan said.
Democrats and administration allies denounced the vote as a waste of time aimed at placating GOP base voters riled up by Donald Trump and the unruly Republican presidential race.
"Since both House and Senate Republicans know President Obama will veto the bill, this is nothing more than government by temper tantrum," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a health advocacy group. "If it were real legislation, this unprecedented action would constitute the largest take-back of health care coverage in our nation's history."
The bill being voted on Wednesday would dismantle the health law's key pillars, including requirements that most people obtain coverage and larger employers offer it to workers.
It would eliminate the expansion of Medicaid coverage to additional lower-income people and the government's subsidies for many who buy policies on newly created insurance marketplaces. And it would end taxes the law imposed to cover its costs.
The bill would also terminate the roughly $450 million yearly in federal dollars that go to Planned Parenthood, about a third of its budget. A perennial target of conservatives, the group came under intensified GOP pressure last year over providing fetal tissue for research.
"It is appalling that in their first week back in session the top priority for Republican leaders in the House is rolling back women's access to preventive health care," said Dawn Laguens, vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
GOP leaders hope to schedule a veto override vote to coincide with the Jan. 22 March for Life in Washington, the annual gathering of anti-abortion activists on the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. However Republicans do not command enough votes to override the president's veto.