Washington — In a retake recalling the film version of “Groundhog Day,” the Senate today redebated the 2010 health-care reform law – this time, in a bid to repeal it.
The measure to repeal was proposed as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill. It failed a procedural challenge on a strict, party-line vote, 47 to 51. On. Jan. 19, House Republicans voted to repeal the health care law, 245 to 189. They were joined by three Democrats.
But today’s vote is only one skirmish in a struggle over the historic law likely to run into 2012 elections – and especially targeting Senate Democrats up for reelection.
“These are the first steps in a long road that will culminate in 2012,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas, after today’s vote. “We will continue to expose flaws and faults in this legislation … and the courts will continue to review it.”
Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada said that he allowed the Republican amendment to come to the floor – a rare event in recent years – so that the Senate could move on to work on jobs and the economy. “We want to get this out of their system very quickly,” he said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
With Democrats controlling the Senate and President Obama wielding a veto pen at the White House, the prospects for outright repeal are remote. Instead, Republicans will push for votes to dismantle incrementally the most unpopular elements of the reform. Even if these votes fail, they put vulnerable Democrats on record in time for the 2012 vote.
Unpopular provision repealed
Yet one effort to amend the health-care law succeeded Wednesday. Democrats allowed a floor vote on a provision in the health-care bill that requires businesses to file tax forms for every supplier involving expenditures over $600. The measure, known as the 1099 provision, proved so unpopular with the business community that even President Obama denounced it in his State of the Union address last month.
The measure to repeal the provision passed the Senate 81 to 17. Sixteen of the 23 Democrats up for reelection in 2012 broke ranks to vote with Republicans on the repeal.
“It’s a needed change that eliminates burdensome paperwork for our small businesses,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan, who sponsored the amendment. The measure would have brought the federal government $19 billion, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, but it also would have required some 40 million American businesses to file 2,000 percent more paperwork to the IRS, Senator Stabenow added.
Republicans claimed credit for the vote. Sen. Mike Johanns (R) of Nebraska had proposed a nearly identical measure in the last Congress, which won only 41 votes. As of Tuesday, he had 61 cosponsors for his own bill to repeal the provision. The 81-to-17 vote was “very, very significant,” he said. “We have ratcheted back one of the most egregious [elements] of many in a 2,700 page plan,” he said after the vote.
GOP’s next health-care target
The GOP’s next front in the bid to undercut the health-care bill is a measure, introduced Tuesday, that allows states to opt out of major provisions of the new law. These opt-outs include: mandates for individuals to buy health insurance and employers to provide it, as well as federal mandates to expand access to state Medicaid programs, and new federal requirements defining what qualifies as a health plan.
“Our bill takes the fight out of Washington and puts it back in the states,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, a cosponsor with Sen. John Barrasso (R) of Wyoming, on Tuesday.
“Medicaid expansion under Obama health care will be devastating to many states, including South Carolina,” he added. “As more states opt out, it will have the effect of repealing and replacing Obamacare.”
To date, 33 governors have written to the White House requesting flexibility in meeting these new health-care mandates.
Congress could prod Supreme Court
In an unrelated move, the Senate Judiciary Committee today held a hearing on whether mandates in the Affordable Care Act – the official name for the health-care law – are constitutional. Citing a ruling on Monday in a US District Court in Florida, chair Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois said: “This is not the first major law that’s been challenged in the courts, even challenged successfully in the lower courts, as to its constitutionality.”
He cited the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Federal Minimum Wage law – all ultimately upheld by the US Supreme Court.
“I think the same thing is going to happen with the Affordable Care Act,” he added at Wednesday’s hearing.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida, up for reelection in 2012, is proposing a resolution to call on the Supreme Court to act quickly on the clarifying the constitutionality of the health-care law.
“The vote to repeal health care is largely symbolic, because the Supreme Court is going to have to be the one to decide this matter,” he said in a statement. “We ought to do the right thing and ask the High Court to rule quickly, so we don’t keep arguing over this for the next several years.”