WASHINGTON — Swiftly honoring a campaign pledge, newly empowered Republicans pushed legislation to repeal the nation's year-old health care overhaul through the House Wednesday night, brushing aside implacable opposition in the Senate and a veto threat from President Barack Obama.
The 245-189 vote was largely along party lines, and cleared the way for the second phase of the "repeal and replace" promise that victorious Republicans made to the voters last fall. GOP officials said that in the coming months, congressional committees will propose changes to the existing legislation, calling for elimination of a requirement for individuals to purchase coverage, for example, and recommending curbs on medical malpractice lawsuits.
Republicans also intend to try to reverse many of the changes Democrats made to Medicare Advantage, the private alternative to the traditional government-run health care program for seniors.
Like the repeal bill itself, these other measures will require Senate approval and a presidential signature to take effect, and the prospect is for months of maneuvering on the issue.
Debate across two days leading to the vote was markedly restrained, as lawmakers in both political parties observed self-imposed vows of civility in the wake of the shooting rampage in Arizona that left six dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wounded.
But there was no mistaking the significance many first-term Republican lawmakers attached to a day they had long waited for, finally getting a chance to speak and then vote on the House floor against a law they had campaigned for months to repeal.
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. said the legislation produced by Obama and congressional Democrats was a "job-killing, socialistic" approach to health care. Rep. Frank Guinta of New Hampshire, who defeated a Democratic incumbent last fall, said it was misguided, needing repeal.
"The American people have soundly, soundly rejected the Democrats' government takeover of health care," said Rep. Sandy Adams of Florida. Rep. Steve Southerland, also of Florida, said the law imposes a crushing tax burden on businesses, and he predicted "1.6 million jobs will be lost by 2014 due to this mandate" to require many businesses to provide coverage for employees. Both Floridians won their seats by turning out Democratic incumbents.
"This is not symbolic. This is why we were sent here," added Rep. Michelle Bachman, of Minnesota, a third term conservative with strong support among tea party activists.
On the short end of the vote, Democrats challenged Republican claims and highlighted politically popular elements of the bill that would be wiped out if repeal took effect.
Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., accused some Republicans of "the height of hypocrisy" by voting to repeal a vast expansion of health care at the same time they had signed up for coverage for their families through a government-organized program available to lawmakers.
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said that despite claims of employment loss, the economy had added jobs in each of the past 10 months.
In one of the most animated speeches of two days of debate, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said repeal would return power to insurance companies. "Has anybody, any family in America, any single mother, any spouse, any child, any grandparent met a more bureaucratic system than the American health insurance system? There is no more bureaucratic system."
Three Democrats voted with Republicans on the repeal measure, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Mike Ross of Arkansas.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the legislation will not see the light of day there, but the GOP Leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said bluntly, "I assure you we will" have a vote on it.
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