WASHINGTON -- House Republicans took another step Friday toward a repeal of last year's sweeping health care overhaul, as the lower chamber approved a key rule allowing a repeal bill to proceed to a vote.
Friday's procedural vote, largely along party lines, set the stage for a symbolic showdown over the signature Democratic law of the last Congress, under which parents can keep children on their health plans until the age of 26, insurers are barred from denying service due to preexisting conditions, Medicaid funding is dramatically expanded and some 30 million uninsured Americans are projected to receive coverage by 2019. The final vote is slated for next Wednesday, following a day of debate.
The procedural vote's final tally was 236 to 181, with two voting "present": Republicans Pete Sessions of Texas and Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who missed the congressional swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday.
The repeal bill will almost certainly pass the House next week, but it has nowhere to go from there. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) controls the floor schedule of the upper chamber, and if he doesn't bring a bill to the floor, it can't become law.
Asked on Thursday if he planned to bring the repeal bill to the floor, Reid said flatly, "No."
Republicans have other ways to constrain the implementation of the health care law, however. Some have threatened to send spending bills to the Senate that defund the reform implementation, setting up a staring contest that could lead to a government shutdown.
Reid said that his party would consider changes to the health care law, but that repeal isn't a serious possibility. "We're willing to work in any way that's constructive in nature to improve the health care delivery system for our country. But repealing health care? They should get a new -- new lease on life and talk about something else," he said.
Still, the House GOP moved forward on the repeal bill, settling on the parameters for the debate Thursday in a 12-hour Rules Committee session. Despite Speaker John Boehner's promises of transparency during his Wednesday swearing-in, the rules they emerged with are restrictive; Democrats are not allowed to introduce any amendments.
"Elections have consequences," Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) told reporters.
On the House floor, Republicans said November's midterm elections served as a referendum on the health care law. Six of the 87 freshmen Republicans spoke in support of repeal. "It's clear that the American people know more than our Democratic leadership with regards to what Americans want," freshman Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) said. "The unconstitutional, job-killing mandates in Obamacare are not the answer."
The House also voted to move forward with a bill to instruct committees to find ways to improve health care. In committee, Republicans can further chip away at the health care law.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, repealing the law would cost $230 billion over the next decade and upwards of $1 trillion in the decade beyond. The House GOP, however, exempts the cost of repealing health care in House rules that otherwise largely congressional action -- other than tax cuts -- from adding to the deficit.