WASHINGTON-Fulfilling a key campaign pledge made by most of the more than 80 new Republican lawmakers, the House of Representatives on Wednesday night voted 245 to 189 to repeal the year-old federal healthcare law.
Some of those freshmen lawmakers, making one of their first and likely one of the biggest votes in their two-year terms, scoffed at Democrats' notion that the repeal legislation, passed strictly along party lines, was largely symbolic.
"Shame on us if we come here and don't do what we said we would do," said freshman Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., moments before he headed into the House chamber to vote in favor of repeal. "It would underscore people's cynicism of Washington."
Huizenga was part of 242 Republicans and three Democrats who voted for repealing the nearly 3,000-page law that recasts the nation's healthcare landscape. The vote was held just two weeks after the start of the 112th Congress at the insistence of the new Republican majority, who cited opposition to the new law as a main reason why voters gave the GOP control of the House last November.
But the odds of the Democratic-led Senate casting a similar vote are small. Even in the unlikely event of the Senate passing a similar measure, President Barack Obama would veto it.
Still, Republicans in charge of the House made the repeal vote one of their top early goals if for no other reason than to set a watermark for the 2012 election. Then the Senate and the White House could be up for grabs. Expect to see Wednesday's vote breakdown used repeatedly in campaign speeches and advertisements during the next two years as conservatives try to rally their base by highlighting their policy differences with Democrats.
"Over the past four years the previous majority took every opportunity to expand the reach and the scope of the federal government," argued Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who is a physician. "The work that will begin tomorrow, after we vote to repeal today, will be focused on patients, on people, and not the government."
Realizing that this is as likely as far as repeal will go, House Republicans plan to start pushing on Thursday a series of healthcare bills that will include such conservative priorities as allowing consumers to buy health insurance across state lines, limiting medical malpractice awards, and prohibiting taxpayer-funded abortions. Republican lawmakers will use a parade of hearings on replacing the healthcare law to keep the issue before the voters. Some aspects of this piece-by-piece approach may get traction in the Senate: A tax provision in the law requiring businesses to report payments of $600 or more has been attacked by both parties as a paperwork nightmare. That regulation is designed to raise $19.2 billion to help pay for the $1 trillion law.
But it does so on the backs of small business owners, argued some Illinois business leaders Thursday morning during a conference call with freshman Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren. The congressman from Illinois heard numerous complaints regarding the climate of uncertainty that this provision and other elements of Obamacare have cast on the nation's small business community.
Such angst from back home left Hultgren wondering if the repeal movement might not gain momentum in the Senate after all.
"They saw they same election results we saw," he told me while walking to the U.S Capitol from his House office to make his one-minute floor speech backing repeal.
In advance of this week's vote, Tea Party activists presented House lawmakers with more than 500,000 signatures supporting repeal.
"All those who say this is a symbolic vote have not read the Constitution or understand the true role of the American citizen in directing their own government," said Ken Hoagland, chairman of the group Repeal It Now.
Hoagland vowed to bring added pressure on the Senate by gaining more then 10 million signatures favoring repeal by this summer.
Throughout the day lawmakers from both sides spoke on the House floor in a debate that was not as fierce as the one that took place last spring when the healthcare overhaul passed the House.
House Speaker John Boehner warned that the law contains $770 billion in tax hikes that will prevent small businesses from growing and hiring new workers. Boehner added that repeal would reduce federal spending by $540 billion.
"Repeal means keeping a promise," Boehner said. "We listened to the people. We made a commitment to them. When you look at the facts. When you listen to the people. This is a promise worth keeping."