WASHINGTON, USA (AFP) — US lawmakers began five contentious hours of debate yesterday over repealing the health care law, with Republicans insisting there is bi-partisan support for wiping President Barack Obama's landmark reforms from the books.
Democrats have slammed the effort — the 31st vote to repeal part or all of the Affordable Care Act — as a political show, but acknowledged it's all but certain to pass the House of Representatives when it reaches the floor today.
"We're going to lose. Republicans are going to vote in lockstep," the number two House Democrat Steny Hoyer told reporters before lawmakers took to the floor to make their cases for or against the reforms that were signed into law in 2010 and upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court late last month.
Hoyer also acknowledged there would be some Democratic defectors who will vote for repeal.
"I think we'll lose some as we did before, not a lot," he said, referring to a vote in early 2011. The number could be higher today, with some Democrats in heated battles for November re-election in swing states.
Republicans, however, are touting the defections as a sign of broader discontent with Obama's reforms.
"There will be Democrats joining Republicans in the repeal," the top Republican vote-corraller in the House, Kevin McCarthy, told reporters.
"Democrats are hearing back home this bill is hurting small businesses."
Republicans say "Obamacare" is placing unfair financial burdens on small companies whose costs they say are rising under the health care law, charges the White House and Democrats refute.
Today's vote is largely symbolic. Democrats control the Senate, and Obama wields a powerful presidential veto pen.
Even so, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell was mindful of last year's Senate vote to repeal, which failed but saw every Republican vote in favour of ending Obama's signature health reforms, and said he was pursuing a similar bill again.
"We believe it's appropriate to have that vote again and we'll be working to get that kind of vote in the near future," McConnell said.
Congresswoman Nan Hayworth said that while she lauded the goals of the Affordable Care Act in seeking to bring the world's richest economy several steps closer to universal health care, "it is not the time for Washington... to impose $2 trillion worth of federally generated cost at a time when we have a massive debt that we already can not afford."
The health care law, she said, "is nothing short of economic malpractice."
Such was the tone on the House floor, where Democrat Edward Markey slammed the "Republican reflux" of futile hammering against a bill Democrats argue most Americans don't want repealed.
Health care reform is now enshrined "right alongside Social Security and Medicare," he said of two cherished entitlement programmes.
"And yet, the Republicans keep trying to take away or take apart the benefits of this law."