After a week-long delay in the wake of the mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., Republicans in the House are getting their shot at repealing the Democrats' health care overhaul. Debate on a Republican bill to repeal the reforms will start -- and likely end -- this week. But today also marks the beginning of a long, renewed debate over health care that is expected to extend through the 2012 elections.
House Speaker John Boehner kicked off a few hours of debate today on a repeal bill, and a vote on the measure will likely take place Wednesday afternoon.
A blog post on the Speaker's website says that tomorrow, "the House will vote on legislation to repeal the job-destroying health care law, giving Congress a 'clean sheet of paper' to develop real health care solutions that will lower costs and protect American jobs, as recommended by these economists and experts." (Note that in the wake of Tucson, the description of the bill has been tweaked from "job killing" to "job destroying.")
The repeal bill is expected to die in the Democrat-led Senate, but the vote gives House Republicans an opportunity to fulfill their campaign pledge to work to undo health care reform legislation. And by instructing House committees to draft a "replace" bill, Republicans can argue they are working to maintain the bill's most popular provisions even as they overturn the bill as a whole.
Yet the renewed health care battle has also put Democrats on the offensive, as they see a new opportunity to sell their reform package to the public.
Democrats organized a series of news conferences today to promote the popular provisions in the health care laws. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius held a news conference this morning on her department's new study showing that as many as 129 million Americans under age 65 have some pre-existing medical condition.
"Prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, your insurance company can decide what is a pre-existing condition and refuse to sell you a policy, charge you two or three times more, or limit your benefits so that your condition is excluded," HHS official Richard Sorian wrote in a blog post. "Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we have already prohibited these practices for children and by 2014 that will be the law of the land for all Americans. But if efforts in Congress to repeal the health law succeed, all those freedoms will be wiped away."
Meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held a hearing today with the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on the impact the Republicans' repeal plan would have on regular Americans. At the start of the hearing, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) noted that the Democratic hearing was the only hearing held before the start of floor debate on the repeal bill, in contrast to the "thousands of hours" of hearings Democrats held before passing their reform package.
"Why we are dong this other than playing to the vanity of the conservative, right-wing of the Republican party, is beyond me," she said.
Republicans launched their own press assault, scheduling a conference this afternoon with Tea Party and conservative grassroots organizers to accept hundreds of thousands of letters from Americans calling for the repeal of "Obamacare."
"I want to make sure that members of Congress on the Hill here and across the country understand how deeply and how broadly Americans have rejected Obamacare," Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who will accept the anti-health care letters at today's press conference, told conservative news outlet Newsmax.
While no one expects Democrats in the Senate to even consider voting on the repeal bill, Republicans could win support from some Senate Democrats to support some modifications to the health care reforms. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is already supporting legislation that would allow states to get an exemption for their residents from the individual mandate, the Wall Street Journal points out. Most lawmakers support repealing a certain provision of the bill that requires more paperwork from businesses.
"We have said no law is perfect," Wasserman Schultz said in a conference call today.
Just how imperfect the law is remains up for debate. Republicans are claiming the health care reforms will cost the economy 650,000 jobs, but that figure amounts to fuzzy math, the Associated Press reports.
Democrats, meanwhile are citing Congressional Budget Office numbers that say the repeal bill will cost the government $230 billion over 10 years. Yet those figures rely on projections and estimates that may not come to bear. The most significant parts of the Democrats' plan, such as the individual mandate, have yet to be implemented.
If Republicans do draw up a "replacement" bill as promised, it will likely resemble the legislation they put forward in 2009 as an alternative to the Democratic plan, the Los Angeles Times reports, focusing on lowering premium costs, assuring access to coverage for people with preexisting conditions and increasing the number of insured Americans without raising taxes.
The White House, however, has argued that real health care reform must be comprehensive in order to be effective. Given the challenge of drawing up a bill -- and the fact that the Republican-led committees have no deadline for producing one -- it's possible Republicans could sideline the replacement bill indefinitely.
Still, the GOP plans to keep the Democrats' reforms in the spotlight. The latest polls show Americans are split on the repeal. But there is enough opposition to the new health care laws that Republicans appear to see a political upside in holding hearings on the issue, trying to withhold funding for the reforms, supporting court efforts against them, and attempting to dismantle them piece by piece.