Senate Republicans push health law repeal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans moved on Tuesday to force a U.S. Senate vote to repeal President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul -- a day after a federal judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional.
Obama's fellow Democrats in the Senate were expected to block the bid, which was made as a Republican amendment to an unrelated federal aviation bill.
The vote was expected as early as Wednesday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said all 47 Republicans in the 100-member Senate would back the repeal, but that would fall far short of the 60 votes to succeed in the Democratic-led chamber.
"It is not going to go anywhere," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said of the Republican amendment, noting that a repeal would add to an already bloated federal deficit.
"We believe the healthcare law is good for the American people," Reid said.
Last month, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted largely along party lines to repeal the year-old healthcare law, and Monday's federal court ruling added fresh impetus to the effort.
"Yesterday's ruling out of Florida, only adds to the urgency of repeal," McConnell said in the Senate.
The law, enacted last year by a Democratic-led Congress, aims to expand health coverage for more than 30 million uninsured Americans while cracking down on unpopular insurance industry practices that have denied people coverage or made it too expensive for them to afford.
The ramifications for the health sector have been widespread, affecting Aetna Inc, WellPoint Inc and other health insurers as well as drugmakers, device companies, hospitals and others.
Polls show many Americans are skeptical of the law, but also that they are reluctant to have it fully repealed.
The healthcare overhaul, which requires most people to obtain coverage by 2014 or face penalties, played a significant role in Republican congressional victories in November and could still a major issue in the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections.
"Everybody will have an opportunity to be on record," McConnell said.
The vote against repealing the law could be troublesome for some Democrats who face re-election next year in Republican-leaning states.
But Senator Charles Schumer said Democrats had the votes to kill the repeal amendment. "I think there is support ... on the floor, to make sure the basic healthcare bill stays intact," he said.
Meanwhile, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John Barrasso introduced a separate bill that would allow states to opt out of the coverage mandates in the healthcare law as well provisions that expand Medicaid medical coverage for the poor.
Graham said so many cash-strapped states would opt out that the entire law would fail.
"It would be easy for me to envision a majority of the states opting out of Obamacare within a year," Graham said, using a derisive term for the healthcare law. "The bill would fall, and we'd have to replace it with something that made more sense."
A federal judge in Florida ruled on Monday to strike down the entire healthcare law, because he found the mandate that all Americans should buy health insurance unconstitutional. The administration is appealing the decision and White House officials have said implementation of the law will continue.
Republicans also argue that the law is unconstitutional and places too big a financial burden on small businesses.
The constitutional issue is expected eventually to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Democrats have used the repeal effort to try to highlight the more politically popular aspects of the law.
They argue that the law is already benefiting people, particularly provisions that allow young adults to stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26 and added prescription drug benefits to the elderly. They argue it also stops insurance industry practices that many people found unfair, including denying coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions.
(Reporting by Kim Dixon, Donna Smith and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Sandra Maler)
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