WASHINGTON — House Republicans voted Friday to begin the process of repealing President Barack Obama's health care law in an effort to deliver on a top campaign promise to conservative voters who propelled them to office.
But GOP leaders appeared to skirt another pledge, for a more open legislative process as the new majority. Republicans said the American public is so overwhelmingly against the health law that it needs to be abolished without giving Democrats an opportunity to offer amendments to a repeal measure.
The two-paragraph repeal bill is scheduled for a vote Wednesday. Polls show voters have mixed views of the health care law.
"We're here responding to the will of the American people," said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. "They threw out a whole bunch of members of Congress in constitutional fashion and replaced them with people who took the oath and the pledge to come here to repeal 'Obamacare.' It's pretty simple."
The House voted 236-181 to advance the debate, even as a report this week showed that repealing the bill would add $230 billion to the federal deficit over 10 years, more than initially expected.
Any repeal bill also must pass the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats and is not expected to go along. That makes the upcoming House vote primarily an exercise in messaging for the new GOP majority and a nod to the tea party activists who aided their rise to power.
Democrats have said they would work with the GOP to make improvements to the law. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., stressed this week: "Republicans have to understand the health care bill is not going to be repealed."
Four Democrats joined the GOP in Friday's vote, mainly conservative "blue dog" Democrats from southern and western states who opposed the bill last year. Their continued opposition reflects discontent even among some Democrats over the law that was the signature achievement of Obama and the last Congress.
But perhaps more telling were the nine other Democrats still in Congress who opposed the health care bill last year but who declined to join the GOP repeal effort, a sign of intensifying partisan warfare. Tea party activists have insisted on an early repeal vote.
Democrats have orchestrated an aggressive campaign in defense of the health care law as popular provisions began to take effect Jan. 1.
Democrats have pointed to benefits the new law is providing seniors, who now are eligible for a 50 percent reduction on their Medicare prescription drug costs after meeting certain requirements. The law also has prohibited insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions and allows parents to enroll their adult children on family plans until age 26.
"We're fighting back with everything we've got," said Yohannes Abraham of Organizing for America in a fundraising appeal Friday.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported this week that repealing the bill would add $230 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade. Republicans dismissed the figure.
Republicans defended their decision to disallow amendments to the repeal measure, saying Democrats would have a chance to weigh in once Republicans offer alternatives to the health law.
"Having this vote tells the people of this country that we heard them during this last campaign," said freshman Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.