WASHINGTON – The House late this afternoon voted to repeal President Obama’s signature health care plan, the first major action of the Republican-controlled chamber but one that is almost certain to be stifled in the Senate.
The 245-to-189 vote helped fulfill an election promise that many Tea Party-backed Republicans made during the midterm elections that carried them into office.
“When I think of the 2,000-page bill, I think of a block of cheese out there, pretty tempting looking,” said Representative Billy Long, a newly elected Republican from Missouri. “Well the Americans I hear from, they don’t want that cheese. They want out of the trap of government-run health care.”
Three Democrats joined all 242 Republicans in voting for the repeal. The three Democrats who voted for the repeal were Mike McIntyre, of North Carolina; Dan Boren, of Oklahoma; and Mike Ross, of Arkansas.
The 10 members of the all-Democratic Massachusetts delegation voted against the repeal measure.
“Some may call it political catharsis, others may chalk it up to theater, pure and simple,” said Representative John Tierney, a Salem Democrat. “Let’s be clear: the positive impact that the existing health care reform law is having on millions of residents and families in all our districts is very real.”
Representative Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat, spoke out against the repeal plan and held up a giant posterboard of two Lexington, Mass., parents holding a newborn baby. The woman, Markey said, had been denied coverage while she was pregnant because her husband switched jobs and the new plan said her pregnancy was a “preexisting condition.”
“It is just plain wrong,” Markey said. “New parents expect sleepless nights, not their insurance companies denying them coverage. New parents should worry about the baby, and not the medical bills.”
Several times during the debate, Democrats invoked the name of former Governor Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts Republican who helped pass the Bay State's landmark 2006 health care law. Romney’s advocacy of the Massachusetts law is seen as one of his chief hurdles in his expected presidential bid.
“This legislation is modeled after a modest, market-driven proposal offered by that left-winger, Mitt Romney,” said Representative Richard E. Neal, a Springfield Democrat. “But what do we hear? The usual scare tactics.”
Still, the debate through much of the day had few of the fireworks that have guided much of the debate over health care. There were no protesters outside the Capitol this morning, as there were last March when Democrats initially passed the legislation.
Both Republicans and Democrats appeared to tamp down their rhetoric in the wake of the shooting in Arizona. Republicans rarely referred to any “job killing” legislation, opting instead for terms like “job destroying”
Even Representative Joe Wilson -- the Republican from South Carolina who received national attention when shouting “You Lie” during President Obama’s address to Congress on health care – was subdued in his remarks.
“The takeover will cripple small businesses,” he said, without raising his voice. “The liberal health care takeover destroys jobs, limits freedoms, and expands big government.”
The passage of the repeal is largely symbolic, because the Senate, still controlled by Democrats, is highly unlikely to consider or pass the measure. President Obama would also veto any legislation, were it to reach his desk.
Senator John Kerry released a statement tonight saying the bill had no chance of passing the Senate.
"If the House bill became law, it would cost Massachusetts billions of dollars, erode Medicare for one million Bay State seniors, and effectively cripple the largest sector of the Massachusetts economy," Kerry said. "...The Senate now becomes the last line of defense for good public policy.”
But Republicans are hoping to keep the health care debate alive over the next election cycle, hoping it will lead to the ouster of President Obama and a majority in the Senate.
In the meantime, Republicans have started looking for an alternative course, scheduling hearings to grapple with reforming the medical malpractice insurance system and trying to repeal some specific provisions, such as a new tax on medical devices.
Democrats appear willing to make changes – but remained opposed to a wholesale repeal.
“If there is a problem with the bill, we should tweak it and change it, not repeal it,” said Representative Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York. “This is political theater, it’s a charade, it isn’t going anywhere. Let’s put our heads together and see what makes sense…I’m willing to change the bill.”
Republicans are also laying plans to eliminate or reduce funding for certain agencies that will be in charge of enacting the new law, with one of the first targets being billions that the Internal Revenue Service will need to ramp up enforcement efforts.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.