Health Care Repeal Tops Agenda of New Congress

Republicans say the debate will remain the same but the tone will be tempered.

January 17, 2011, 2:07 PM

Jan. 18, 2011— -- The House of Representatives began debate today on the contentious two-page health care repeal bill spearheaded by the Republican leadership, after a week-long hiatus following the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

GOP leaders say they will continue to frame the health care debate and the bill as one about a law that they believe costs U.S. jobs.

There are no plans or discussions to take out the phrase "job killing" from the title of the controversial bill, even as some Democrats argue that it should be removed as part of lawmakers' pledge to pursue a more civil political discourse in the wake of the deadly Tucson rampage.

Conservatives say the real nature of the debate is unlikely to change, although the tone is likely to be tempered.

"I think you'll see a more civil debate than you would have had otherwise," Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "I'm not sure the substance of the debate will change that much. I think Republicans are committed to repealing the law in the House, obviously.

"But I do think that the tone will change, and that's a good thing. I think it was a good decision to put it off for a week."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, adjusted his own tone this weekend, calling the Democrats' and President Obama's spending spree "job-destroying," instead of "job killing," a term that he has used liberally in recent months. Boehner's aides denied that the change was intentional or planned, and that he has also used the term "job destroying" in the past.

Health care has become one of the most politically charged topics of recent years, next only to immigration.

When Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., shouted, "You Lie" during Obama's State of the Union speech last year, the president was discussing what he dubbed a false claim that the health care bill would insure illegal immigrants.

Republicans say they have no reason to turn up the tempo on their objections. Given their majority status in the House, the repeal vote will likely sail through the House.

"There's no reason for Republicans to turn it up. We're in the majority now," Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said. "For Democrats, defenders of 'Obamacare,' to argue that there will be heated rhetoric and we can't do that because they presume heated rhetoric had something to do with the deranged individual that brought about the tragedy in Tucson, first it's illogical. It's illogical to draw those connections and I, for one, won't be caught up in that."

Yet some Republicans argue for broad bipartisanship and say that while the health care law may not be perfect, the solutions to fix the U.S. health care system can only be achieved together by both parties.

"The Affordable Care Act, not just for me but for most of the American people, is not the bill they would've written," former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said today. "It's not the bill I would've drafted but it is the law of the land and it is the fundamental platform upon which all future efforts to make this system better -- for this patient, for this family, for this community -- will be based, and that is a fact.

"It has many strong elements and those elements, whatever happens, need to be preserved, need to be cuddled, need to be snuggled and need to be implemented," he added.

Frist and former Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle today announced they will lead a bipartisan project to help states develop and implement policy changes required under the new health care law.

"Progress cannot be achieved in the absence of bipartisan support," Daschle of South Dakota said. "We need to move past the political divides and the inflammatory rhetoric, especially in the wake of the terrible national tragedy in Arizona, and dedicate ourselves to substantive national discussion and find real bipartisan solutions to our health care system's most critical needs."

Debate on the Health Care Repeal Vote Starts Today

The bill is unlikely to pass in the Senate or to be signed by Obama. Republicans admit it is a symbolic vote but argue it is one that signals the start of their efforts that will likely continue for years to come, even as the Obama administration rolls out the new provisions in the plan.

Democrats say the repeal vote gives them the opportunity to re-explain the law to Americans, who still remain confused about what it really means to them.

"The debate in some ways in the House gives us a chance to ... remind people what it is that's at stake. Why we can't go back to where we were," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said today on a conference call with reporters.

HHS today released a new administration analysis that estimates the law -- when it fully kicks in three years from now -- will prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to between 50 and 129 million non-elderly Americans who have some kind of pre-existing health condition.

Per the study, as many as 129 million Americans younger than 65 have some kind of pre-existing health condition and would be at risk of losing health insurance if the law is repealed. The study estimated that up to 30 percent of perfectly healthy Americans, specifically older citizens, are likely to develop a pre-existing condition in the next eight years.

"The health insurance reform we passed protects consumers, plain and simple," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement. "Repealing the entire law would put insurance companies back in charge of patient care, rather than the patients themselves."

Americans are still divided over the law, although opposition that existed in the early days of the debate has subsided, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released Monday.

The poll finds that 40 percent of those surveyed said they support the law, while 41 percent oppose it. Just after the November congressional elections, opposition stood at 47 percent and support was 38 percent. Only about one in four said they wanted to repeal the law completely.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that repealing the health care law would cost $145 billion through the end of the decade and $230 billion by 2021, and that it would add roughly $145 billion to the federal budget deficit.

But Republicans have dismissed the estimates, saying the numbers don't fully take into account the negative impact of the new provisions.

ABC News' Jay Shalor and Brian Hartman contributed to this report.

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