US healthcare reform faces repeal

2011-01-19 09:36

Washington - The new Republican-controlled House of Representatives is certain to vote on Wednesday to repeal President Barack Obama's healthcare reform. The Democratic-controlled Senate is just as certain to let the measure die.

Republicans and Democrats adopted a more civil tone without angry shouts as they debated the repeal legislation on the House floor on Tuesday just 10 days after the shooting rampage in Arizona that left a Democratic congresswoman wounded and lawmakers of both parties stunned.

Representative Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat, said he expected that "members will heed their own advice and will address the issues in a way that will deal with them on the merits". In the past, he added, too much of the public debate was "about incitement rather than informing, about making people angry, disrespecting the ... point of view of the other side".

The House vote had been slated for last week as the Republicans' first order of business - a campaign promise that helped them regain the majority in the lower chamber. But action was put off after the attack on Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot through the head.

She is hospitalised in serious condition but six others who attended her meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona, were killed. They include a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

Now, the House vote is back on after more than a week of national soul-searching and questions about whether the brutal tone of the political dialogue helped fuel the deadly attack in Arizona.

Repeal would be 'a step backwards'

While most politicians agree that the heated rhetoric had gotten out of hand, little has changed in narrowing the deep partisan divide on such key issues as the healthcare reform legislation.

The measure that Obama signed into law last March extended healthcare coverage over a period of four years to 32 million Americans who now lack it, and reshaped the way most Americans receive and pay for medical treatment.

The signing followed a year of intense political battles and marked a victory that eluded presidents stretching back almost half a century.

Obama said on Tuesday that he is willing to work with Democrats and Republicans to improve the healthcare law but warned that lawmakers shouldn't "go backward" and repeal the measure.

In a statement, Obama said Americans deserve the freedom and security of knowing insurance companies can't deny, cap or drop their healthcare coverage when they need it most.

The House action to repeal the law is merely symbolic given that the Senate will not even take up the measure and that Obama is certain to veto it should it somehow pass through Congress.

Intrusion claims

But it does signal the beginning of the Republican effort to chisel away at the law through attempts to deny funding for parts of the legislation as they go into effect in the coming years.

An Associated Press-GfK poll taken earlier this month finds Americans almost evenly divided on the law. The poll found that 40% of those surveyed said they support the law, while 41% oppose it. Strong opposition to the law stands at 30%, close to the lowest levels registered in AP-GfK surveys dating to September 2009.

As for repeal, only about one in four said they want to do away with the law completely. Among Republicans support for repeal has dropped sharply, from 61% after the elections to 49% now.

Dissatisfaction with the law stems in part from a powerful campaign by Republicans and the conservative tea party movement to portray it as further intrusion into citizens' private lives by the federal government.

Some insisted the new legislation amounted to socialised medicine, even though parts of the law were lifted from a Republican plan drawn up in the 1990s.

In some extreme cases, opponents falsely claimed that the legislation would set up so-called government "death panels" to decide when to end treatment for elderly patients.

Creative use of statistics

Others object to it on the basis that it's too expensive, especially given the spiralling US deficit.

Now, Republicans are warning the healthcare reform law will cost 650 000 US jobs if it is not repealed. Experts debunk that claim as a creative use of statistics from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

What the CBO actually said is that the impact of the healthcare law on supply and demand for labour would be small. Most of it would come from people who no longer have to work, or can move to less demanding employment, because insurance will be available outside the job. Under the previous system, most Americans got their health insurance through work.

The Obama administration released a study on Tuesday saying repeal of the existing law could threaten between 50 million and 129 million nonelderly men, women and children with denial of affordable health insurance because they have pre-existing medical conditions.

The administration built its estimate on changes in the law that already have taken effect or might take effect by 2014.

House Republicans issued a point-by-point rebuttal that said the administration's claim was vastly overstated and accused Democrats of "scare tactics".