The 112th Congress met for the first time on Wednesday, with Republicans making their first order of business a repeal of the healthcare reform law.
Rep Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the new House Majority Leader, introduced Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act (H.R. 2) and called for a floor vote on the bill by next Wednesday.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the bill would increase federal budget deficits over the 2012-2019 period by roughly $145 billion.
Most observers on Capitol Hill are calling the vote a symbolic gesture because the bill would be unlikely to pass the Senate. Gaining a super majority in both houses to override a presidential veto would be even more unlikely – if not impossible – many experts say.
The bill, however, is kicking off what may be a ferocious battle, as the House GOP majority has vowed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act piece by piece if it can't be repealed.
Outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Cantor's proposal is taking the focus off creating jobs, which should be the number one priority for this Congress.
"Instead of joining Democrats in our efforts for job creation, Republicans are planning to put insurance companies back in charge by repealing patients' rights," she said.
On Thursday, more than 2,000 physicians and medical students urged new House leaders to strengthen, not repeal, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
"As doctors, we see how our broken healthcare system is failing patients and healthcare providers. Passing and implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is an important first step to fixing a broken system, and we must continue to move forward," said Vivek Murthy, MD, president of Doctors for America. "Repealing the healthcare reform law will only move our healthcare system backward – and millions of patients simply can't afford that."
Outgoing Democratic House leaders urged the GOP to drop the proposed bill or at the least hold hearings prior to a floor vote.
A repeal of the Affordable Care Act would cause "widespread disruption," they said.
Stephanie Cutter, the White House assistant to the President for special projects, said the Republican proposal to repeal the law doesn't come as a surprise.
"But what is surprising is how carelessly they are disregarding the consequences of taking away the new freedoms, control over healthcare decisions and the cost savings the law provides the American people," she said.
Cutter said benefits of the Affordable Care Act that would be lost if the law is repealed include:
- Unprecedented accountability and transparency in the insurance market;
- Reduced prescription drug costs for seniors;
- Tax credits for small businesses to defray the costs of employee coverage;
- Protection against double-digit premium increases;
- Preventive care without cost-sharing;
- Support for working class families by providing them tax credits to help pay for coverage;
- Competitive new state-based health insurance marketplaces (called exchanges); and
- Affordable, quality health coverage for all Americans regardless of their age and gender or if they have a pre-existing condition.
Cantor doesn't agree.
"When something isn't working, there is never any shame in starting over," he said. "The majority of Americans are asking that we start over on healthcare reform, and that is why the new Republican House in January will pass a clean repeal of Obamacare."