At the White House, spokesman Reid Cherlin said Obama would have no qualms about delivering his State of the Union speech to lawmakers who've just repudiated his signature accomplishment, one that Democrats compare with the establishment of Social Security and Medicare. The president "feels pretty confident about defending the health care law," Cherlin said.
Senate Democrats agree. In Monday's letter to Boehner, Majority Leader Reid and top lieutenants said repeal would undermine improvements already on the books, such as deep discounts on brand-name drugs for Medicare recipients who have fallen into a coverage gap called the "doughnut hole."
"This proposal deserves a chance to work," the Democratic leaders said. "It is too important to be treated as collateral damage in a partisan mission to repeal health care." The law would gradually close the coverage gap.
Democrats are preparing other counterattacks.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said Monday he will try to force the House to vote separately on the Medicare drug benefits and other popular provisions, including one that allows adult children to stay on their parents' coverage until they turn 26. That could put Republicans in an awkward bind.
Other supporters of the health care law have launched a "drop it or stop it" campaign, challenging Republicans who vote to repeal the overhaul to also give up the government-funded health insurance provided to members of Congress.
"It's hypocrisy, their willingness to take health care from the U.S. Congress, while they're denying it to their constituents," said Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America NOW, a coalition of the law's backers.
Republicans say that's nonsense: Lawmakers are only accepting the same employer-sponsored health care coverage available to other federal workers.
They may be more vulnerable on another score. The House vote will be to simply repeal the health care law. The "replace" part of the GOP slogan will be delegated to several committees, charged with developing an alternative as the year goes on. That can be a laborious process, one that produced plenty of disagreements and embarrassments for Democrats when they were in control.
It's a risk worth taking, says Rep. King. "I do not believe that you can leave any of Obamacare in the law," he said. "To pick and choose would start endless squabbles. If there are components of Obamacare that have merit, they can be reintroduced as part of a replacement process."
Finally, there's a wild card: the courts. Challenges to the constitutionality of the health care law are working their way toward the Supreme Court. Opponents say Congress overstepped its authority by requiring most Americans to carry health insurance, effective in 2014. The case may take a couple of years, and it could change everything.
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