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Cost of healthcare repeal put at $230 billion

The Congressional Budget Office's latest analysis on the effect a repeal of the overhaul would have on the federal deficit may pose a challenge to GOP efforts to dismantle the law. House Speaker John Boehner dismisses the estimate.

January 07, 2011|By Noam N. Levey, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — The Republican plan to repeal the healthcare law would drive up federal deficits by $230 billion by 2021, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded Thursday, undercutting GOP efforts to seize the mantle of fiscal responsibility.

Overturning the law President Obama signed in March would also leave 32 million more Americans without health coverage, the analysts concluded.

And although health insurance premiums would be lower in some cases, the analysts estimated that without the law, consumers would get skimpier coverage and many would actually pay more because they would lose subsidies included in the new law.

House Republican leaders quickly dismissed the new projection from the CBO as unrealistic. Some analysts have also questioned whether all the savings in the sweeping overhaul will be realized.

"CBO is entitled to their opinion," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R- Ohio) said. "I do not believe that repealing the job-killing healthcare law will increase the deficit."

The closely watched CBO, an agency that lawmakers from both parties have historically relied on, is considered one of the most important independent sources for information about the effect of proposed legislation.

The new analysis underscores the cost of repealing the healthcare law at a time when millions of Americans have been losing health benefits and insurers are raising premiums. It updates earlier estimates that a repeal would cost $143 billion over the next decade, and it poses a new challenge for the GOP as the party begins its campaign to dismantle the law.

As the $230-billion hole in the budget was projected, House Republicans celebrated a $35-million savings by trimming members' office budgets by 5% this year. Those cuts, the first of promised weekly budget cuts coming from the House GOP, passed on a 410-13 vote.

The GOP has strategically exempted the cost of repealing the healthcare law from new House rules that require new costs or spending to be offset by cuts elsewhere. The House is to vote Wednesday on the two-page resolution to repeal the healthcare law.

The legislation is unlikely to progress in the Senate, where Democrats retain a majority.

Even conservative Democrats, such as Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, have expressed opposition to repeal, although Assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said Thursday that Democrats would consider adjustments to the overhaul.

"The majority of the Senate still believes in healthcare reform," Durbin said. "We also believe that the only perfect bill ever enacted was carried down the mountain by Sen. Moses. Every other effort has needed some visitation, reconsideration, and this will too."

In the House, Republicans have not said how they would seek to change the law if their repeal effort failed.

On Thursday, Republicans rejected Democratic calls for hearings on the effect of a repeal before a vote.

"We believe that we owe the American people an up or down vote," said Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who will help lead the repeal effort as chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

GOP leaders on the House Rules Committee rejected bids from Democrats to offer amendments to the repeal resolution that would protect parts of the law, such as new restrictions on insurance companies. That drew heated criticism from Democrats on the committee.

"You're saying: 'Let's repeal this bill. We don't have a replacement. Trust us,' " said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). "So much for the open process. There is none."

Speaking to reporters elsewhere at the Capitol, Boehner countered: "I promised a more open process. I didn't promise that every single bill was going to be an open bill."

noam.levey@latimes.com

Times staff writers Kathleen Hennessey and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

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