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Senate rejects GOP-led bid to repeal healthcare law

The 47-51 party-line vote comes two weeks after House Republicans approved a repeal resolution.

February 03, 2011|By Noam N. Levey, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Senate Democrats on Wednesday turned aside a bid by Republicans to repeal the new healthcare law, in the first Senate test of the sweeping overhaul that President Obama signed last March.

The move to attach the repeal to an aviation bill got just 47 votes, all from Republicans, falling 13 shy of the 60-vote supermajority needed. Fifty-one senators voted against repeal.

That effectively ended the first chapter of the GOP legislative attack on the new law, two weeks after Republicans pushed a repeal resolution through the House.

It sets the stage for new battles over specific provisions of the law, including the controversial mandate that will require most Americans to get health insurance starting in 2014.

Republican leaders, who have pledged to go after the law "piece by piece," have not indicated what part of the overhaul they will target first.

With funding for the federal government set to expire in four weeks, the next battleground could be crucial legislation to keep the government operating from March to September.

Short of shutting down the government, Republican leaders are working to peel off enough Democrats in the Senate to pass legislation taking out pillars of the healthcare law, such as the controversial mandate or the funding needed to expand coverage to tens of millions of Americans.

Republicans are also considering proposals to allow states to opt out of parts of the law, as many GOP governors have said they want to do.

The GOP repeal proposal did not win over a single Democrat; 50 Democrats and one independent voted against it. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) missed the vote.

Even Democrats from conservative states who face reelection in 2012 rejected a repeal, though many have said they are interested in modifying the law.

"Who wants to go backward and tell 220,000 Nebraskans they can't have health insurance?" Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) told reporters in his home state.

Republican lawmakers — backed by business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation — said they would come up with an alternative.

"We'd repeal this bill right now, and then we'd begin the work of achieving our common goal of delivering healthcare at a higher quality for lower costs," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor.

Republicans haven't offered an alternative, however, prompting warnings from consumer groups and patient advocates that Americans stand to lose new protections if the law is repealed.

The two parties agreed to make a small change to the healthcare law to relieve businesses of a new tax-reporting mandate. The provision required businesses to report purchases exceeding $600 to the Internal Revenue Service.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, debate raged on over the law's insurance requirement, which a federal judge in Florida ruled Monday was unconstitutional.

Michael Carvin, a former Reagan administration lawyer, called the mandate an unprecedented requirement that people buy a product, a line of reasoning offered by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson.

If Congress can require this of people, there is "literally no limiting principle" to the government's power, Carvin said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Harvard Law School professor Charles Fried, who served as President Reagan's solicitor general, countered that Congress's well-established authority to regulate commerce gave it the clear right to require health insurance.

"I'm not sure it's good policy. I'm not sure it's going to make the country any better," Fried said. "But I am quite sure that the healthcare mandate is constitutional."

David G. Savage in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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