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Washington Digest: House GOP backs health care law repeal

WASHINGTON – In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the 2009 health care law, House Republicans last week united behind a vote to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature reform and its mandate that individuals carry health insurance or pay a penalty.

Republicans labeled the law a massive tax on America that they claim represents a federal takeover of the health care system.

Democrats stood mostly in opposition to repealing the law, saying it will offer health coverage to 30 million uninsured people and already has helped young adults and those with pre-existing conditions obtain affordable insurance.

The 244-185 vote fell largely along the same lines as a similar repeal vote taken in January 2011, soon after the GOP gained majority control of the House. At that time, three moderate Democrats joined the Republicans in seeking repeal. Two more Democrats voted to repeal this time.

No Republican voted either time against repeal.

The Senate, where Democrats hold the majority, has refused to consider repealing the law. While Republican leaders knew the latest vote would have no legislative impact, they said it was important to reaffirm to voters that they oppose the Affordable Care Act regardless of the Supreme Court finding that it is constitutional.

"We have said from Day One that we must fully repeal this law. Today, we can start over and we can tell the American people, ‘We are on your side,’ " said Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Democrats criticized the debate as an election year exercise in futility and chided Republicans for offering no alternative to replace the law.

"You are wasting the time of the American people. You are wasting the time of the Congress. Where is the replacement? It is not to be seen," said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.

Reps. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., and Joe Heck, R-Nev., voted for repeal.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., voted against repeal.


The House passed a bill aimed at reducing the time it takes companies to acquire permits to explore and develop mines on federal lands.

On average, companies spend seven to 10 years to acquire mining permits, putting them at a competitive dis­advantage to foreign competitors, said Amodei, a former president of the Nevada Mining Association and author of the legislation.

He said the permitting delays have left the United States dependent on China for almost all the rare earth elements used by domestic manufacturers.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., argued against the bill, saying proponents were using concerns over the domestic mineral supplies as a pretext for gutting environmental protections on virtually all mining operations.

"This is a GOP giveaway," Markey said.

Amodei defended the legislation, saying it did not gut environmental regulations but simply sets a time limit on the permitting process and requires federal agencies to collaborate with those seeking permits.

The House voted 256-160 for the bill. Amodei, Heck and Berkley voted for it.


Senate Republicans blocked floor action on a plan Democrats offered to provide additional tax breaks to small businesses that hire new workers.

Democrats failed to overcome a 60-vote threshold needed to keep the small-business tax bill alive, falling seven votes short, 53-44.

Republicans said the Democrat majority would not give them an opportunity to broaden debate to include all of the expiring Bush-era tax cuts.

The Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year. Republicans want to extend them all; Democrats have argued against extending tax breaks to wealthy Americans and corporations.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted to move ahead with the small-business tax break bill. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted against it.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at purban @stephensmedia.com or at 202-783-1760.

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