Senate Democrats block GOP bid to repeal health care law


-- Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked a Republican effort to repeal the health care law passed last year.

The party-line vote, with all 47 Republicans in favor and 51 Democrats opposed, meant the procedural motion failed to get the necessary 60 votes to pass. Two Democrats didn't vote.

While the Republican-controlled House of Representatives previously succeeded in passing a bill to repeal the health care overhaul on Jan. 19, the Senate defeat Wednesday means a total repeal of the measure by Congress is dead for now.

The Senate vote involved a Democratic challenge to a Republican amendment that would repeal the health care law.

Because the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said the health care reform law will lower the deficit, Democrats argued that repealing it would increase the deficit.

The Democrats therefore invoked a point of order against the Republican amendment under budget rules that limit the ability of Congress to increase the deficit. That forced Republicans to try to waive the budget rules in this case, with the motion requiring 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to pass.

The threshold proved out of reach for the Republicans, who hold 47 seats.

Using the budget argument was a way for Democrats to say they voted for fiscal responsibility. Senator Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, said before the vote that supporting the Republican amendment would be "irresponsible" and "reckless."

"The amendment will significantly worsen the deficit," Conrad said, noting that senators from both parties are calling for getting deficits and debt under control.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the amendment's sponsor, responded that the public will understand that the vote was really against the repeal of health care reform.

"Only in Washington could you argue with a straight face that starting a new trillion-dollar entitlement program" was a way to save money, McConnell said.

While a repeal of the entire health care law won't move forward, Senate Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the elimination of a rule, scheduled to take effect in 2012, that would require businesses to issue Form 1099s to any individual or corporation from which they buy more than $600 in goods or services in a year. Most liberals and conservatives view the rule as an unnecessary burden on private-sector employers.

Wednesday's vote amounted to a push by Republicans to get Democratic opposition to a full repeal on the record in the form of votes against the amendment.

Democrats concede the health care overhaul can be improved, but they oppose rolling back benefits for consumers.

"We're not going to go back and fight the battles of the last two years," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday. "We're not going to go backward. We're going to move forward."

Overall, the Republicans oppose the increased government role in regulating health care, claiming it will impinge on individuals' right to choose care options. Democrats say the law will better control skyrocketing health care costs and expand coverage to millions of people currently lacking health insurance.

The push for an outright repeal is one of several strategies currently being pursued by the GOP leadership in order to undermine support for the law. Senate Republicans also introduced legislation Tuesday that would allow states to opt out of key provisions of the new health care law.

Specifically, the bill would allow state governments to opt out of the so-called "individual mandate" requiring everyone to obtain health care coverage by 2014 or face penalties. It would also allow states to ignore new mandates regarding employer-based coverage, insurance benefits and an expansion of Medicaid.

The motion was introduced one day after a federal judge in Florida issued a sweeping ruling against the law, siding with 26 states that had challenged the measure and setting up a likely Supreme Court challenge in the months ahead.

A federal judge in eastern Virginia has also found the health care law unconstitutional, while two other federal judges, one in western Virginia and one in Michigan, have ruled the opposite. Twelve other federal judges have dismissed challenges to the law, according to the White House.