Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said it’s up to Congress to decide what to do with the health care law, and House Republicans are following his advice, forcing the chamber to vote Wednesday on repealing the entire package just weeks after the Supreme Court said it’s constitutional.
The symbolic vote won’t go far — Senate Democrats are certain to block it if it passes the House — but Republicans hope it will build momentum by putting Democrats on the spot in states and districts across the country where the law remains unpopular.
Some Democrats have already reversed course and said they’ll vote for repeal this time around in the wake of the court’s ruling.
“I’ve heard from hundreds and hundreds of people from my district about their opposition to the health care law,”Rep. Larry Kissell, North Carolina Democrat, told the Charlotte Observer last week. “I voted against it originally, and I will vote to repeal it.”
Others have stayed quiet since the 5-4 high court decision — including Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, who has barely mentioned the health care law since. Voters in her state in 2010 became the first to approve a measure aiming to nullify the law. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, faces a similar challenge to defend his seat in Ohio, where voters moved in 2011 to invalidate the law’s insurance mandate.
Other Democrats have tried to walk a fine line, arguing that both sides are to blame.
In North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp, the Democrat running to replace retiring Sen. Kent Conrad, says that parts of the law need to be fixed, but she applauds some of its more popular provisions.
And Bob Kerrey and Richard Carmona, Democratic candidates for Senate in Nebraska and Arizona, respectively, are putting even more distance between themselves and Mr. Obama’s biggest legislative achievement, saying the law needs improvement.
The debate on repeal began on the House floor Tuesday and ends Wednesday afternoon with a final vote.
“We’ll repeal ‘Obamacare,’ and when you watch the vote and you look at the news, it’s not just Republicans voting to repeal ‘Obamacare,’ you’ll find Democrats will join with us,” said Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, California Republican.
But Democrats said the vote was a waste of time, since the House has already voted more than 30 times before on full or partial repeals, only to see them all fail to clear the Senate.
They also chided Republicans for failing to come up with a replacement or alternative to the health care law — something House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and his GOP promised in the 2010 campaign “Pledge to America.”
“If you don’t succeed, try, try again,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, North Carolina Democrat. “House Republicans are taking this phrase to a whole new level … my friends on the other side, you have a wrecking ball. Where is your plan?”
Even some Democrats who voted against the law in 2010 joined their colleagues in blasting the GOP for this week’s vote.
Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire, who recently lost a primary challenge to Rep. Mark S. Critz in a redrawn district, said he won’t vote to repeal the law even though he opposed it during passage, saying Republicans should instead be working with Democrats to improve it.
“I refuse to waste the time and resources of American taxpayers, like I said when this vote came before the House the first time, by engaging in a purely partisan exercise that has no chance of becoming law,” Mr. Altmire said.
Mr. Critz, who was elected to Congress after the law was passed, said he still opposes major parts of the law, but will vote against repealing it, saying Congress should work to fix it instead.
Of the 34 Democrats who voted against the law when it was passed in March 2010, only 13 remain in Congress. Three of them sided with Republicans when the House voted last year to repeal the entire law.
By holding a second comprehensive repeal vote — even though their chances of success are no better than the last time around — Republicans hope to churn up enough political momentum against the health care law that they can win the White House and enough seats in Congress to repeal the whole law next year.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised a vote to repeal the whole law just hours after the Supreme Court passed down its ruling on June 28. And to lead up to the vote, Republican committee chairmen held hearings on Tuesday to highlight their complaints against the law.
Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell E. Issa of California invited witnesses who testified about how the law would hurt job creators and the economy. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina presided over a health subcommittee hearing examining how the law would affect doctors and patients.
Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, held a hearing on the Supreme Court’s ruling that the penalty for failing to buy coverage is a tax — the part of the ruling Republicans have been hammering, accusing Mr. Obama of breaking his promises not to raise taxes on middle-income Americans.
And floor debate went much the same way it’s gone the 32 other times the House has voted to repeal parts or all of the law.
The Supreme Court’s ruling last month upheld the individual mandate requiring all Americans to obtain insurance as valid under Congress’ taxing power. But the decision did nothing to quell the discord between the two parties.
And the public remains just as polarized, although some polls have indicated that the health care law may not be as important to voters this election as in 2010.
In a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday, 37 percent of registered voters said it didn’t make much difference to them whether a candidate supported the health care law. That’s up from 21 percent of respondents who said a candidate’s stance on the law would make no difference in a similar poll conducted two years ago.
• Paige Winfield Cunningham can be reached at email@example.com.
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