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Lawmakers eager to address Obamacare, Supreme Court vacancy

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers will swarm to Capitol Hill this week for the 115th Congress, where the Republican-led House and Senate are eager to dismantle President Barack Obama’s health care plan and fill a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.

Democrats hold just enough seats to leverage some concessions, but Senate Republicans are confident they can confirm President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks for key administration posts.

The Nevada delegation will be led by the state’s senior senator, Dean Heller, a Republican.

Heller assumes the mantle following the retirement of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who is leaving office after three decades of public service when Congress convenes on Tuesday.

Heller said his priorities in the past Congress were to “move forward to help Nevadans thrive, from veterans to health care to infrastructure.”

He said the accomplishments prove that the Republican majority was prepared to work and produced lasting results.

“And I look forward to advancing even more priorities that benefit Nevada in the 115th Congress,” he said.

With Trump signaling he wants to roll back Obama’s signature legislative legacy — the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare — Republicans in the House and Senate are prepared to take initial votes when they open the next session.

Heller cobbled together a bipartisan agreement in the last session of Congress to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s so-called “Cadillac tax,” a 40-percent excise tax on employee health benefits that would have affected 1.3 million workers in Nevada with employer-sponsored health plans.

“Rest assured I will continue to fight for a full repeal in the next Congress,” Heller said.

Repeal of provisions in Obamacare will likely meet opposition, particularly in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow majority.

Reid, in one of his final parting shots, said Republican talk of repealing the law that provides health care access to 20 million is mean and awful.

“More people will get sick and more people will die. What a cynical effort to get rid of something they don’t like,” he said.

Republicans have yet to offer a replacement plan that would provide access.

“That’s why they are not going to do anything to replace it,” Reid said.

SUPREME COURT VACANCY

Another issue that faces the new Congress is filling a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy that came open when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February during a leisure trip to the remote Big Bend region of Texas. A partisan fight over a Supreme Court nomination could begin as early as this spring.

Trump, who takes office Jan. 20, campaigned on filling Scalia’s seat with a conservative in the mold of the late jurist.

The president-elect has pledged to move quickly on a nominee.

“I expect it in January. I think he wants to make good on his promise during the campaign,” said Carl Tobias, an expert on the judiciary at the University of Richmond School of Law.

Almost all the candidates on Trump’s list of potential nominees place a priority on the right to life.

“That is going to be a flashpoint,” Tobias said.

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York has indicated lawmakers could meet in bipartisan negotiations to push through a legislative package on infrastructure improvements, an effort that both sides and Trump see as providing job growth.

Schumer is replacing Reid, whose departure will leave a void for the state, which had enjoyed his clout.

His Senate colleagues may also feel his absence.

“Reid aggressively pushed the Democratic agenda. He provided the funds and other support that elected quite a few members of the caucus,” said Larry Sabato, director for the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia.

NEW-LOOK DELEGATION

Reid’s hand-picked successor, Sen.-elect Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat and a former Nevada attorney general, will be sworn in Tuesday.

Reid was supportive of Cortez Masto, but he insists it is now up to her to blaze her own way in the Senate and carry the weight for Nevada and Democratic causes.

“She is a wonderful woman. I know her mom; I knew her dad,” Reid said. “She has the potential to do OK, but potential is only potential. You have be able to fulfill that potential, and I hope she does.”

Cortez Masto is the first Latina to serve in the Senate, and she joins six other new members.

Cortez Masto said in statements that she looks forward to working with her Republican and Democratic colleagues in the Senate but also wants to end the partisan politics and the gridlock.

“We have too many problems facing our state and our nation to continue the partisan games in Congress,” she said.

The new Senate is likely to address immigration legislation, an issue that became a hallmark of Trump speeches during the presidential campaign as he vowed to step up deportation of undocumented immigrants and build a wall along portions of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Cortez Masto said she will be “one hell of a check and balance on Donald Trump and anyone who uses hateful, divisive rhetoric or champions legislation that goes against the interests of the people of Nevada.”

Among the more than 50 incoming new members of the House is Ruben Kihuen, a Democrat who will be the first Latino to represent Nevada, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Kihuen is an immigrant from Mexico and was a former Reid staffer before he became a rising Democratic star in Nevada politics.

Kihuen knocked off incumbent U.S. Rep. Cresent Hardy, R-Nev., in the November election.

Kihuen and Jacky Rosen, a Democrat elected to the open seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican who was defeated by Cortez Masto in the Senate race, will join U.S. Reps. Dina Titus, a Democrat, and Mark Amodei, a Republican.

The two new House members from Nevada will be sworn in Tuesday.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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