WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Wednesday backed a one-year delay in the penalty that individuals would have to pay for failing to sign up for health insurance, the 50th time Republicans have forced a vote to repeal, gut or change the law championed by President Barack Obama.
The vote was 250-160, with 27 Democrats joining Republicans on legislation to postpone the individual mandate under the law. The measure stands no chance in the Democratic-led Senate and the White House has threatened a veto.
The vote was another example of the election-year political maneuvering on health care. Republicans remain convinced that public dissatisfaction with the law will cost Democrats in November’s contests, helping the GOP increase its majority in the House and possibly win back the Senate.
Some vulnerable Democrats in competitive races voted with the GOP, including lawmakers from Arizona, Georgia, Illinois and New Hampshire. Democratic Rep. Gary Peters, who is seeking Michigan’s open Senate seat, backed the bill.
During the House debate, Republicans argued that the breaks Obama has provided to businesses facing penalties under the law should apply to average Americans.
"If the president can delay the employer mandate, where’s the relief for everyone else?" asked Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan.
The debate came as the Obama administration granted a two-year extension for individual policies that don’t meet requirements of the new health care law, a delay that Republicans immediately seized upon to criticize the administration.
Republicans described a list of woes associated with the law — canceled policies, patients unable to stick with their doctors and more expensive premiums.
"The president’s health care law is wreaking havoc on the American people," said Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
The 4-year-old law requires U.S. citizens and legal residents to have qualifying health care coverage or face a tax penalty based on household income. The penalty would be phased in at 1 percent of taxable income this year, 2 percent in 2015 and 2.5 percent in 2016.
Democrats said the GOP hasn’t come up with a viable alternative that would expand coverage and deal with egregious insurance practices. They questioned why the House was holding another health care vote while no action has been taken on raising the minimum wage, overhauling immigration and extending unemployment insurance.
"Don’t we have anything else to do?" asked Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, highlighted the fact that Republicans had once backed the notion of the individual mandate and that it was the foundation of Massachusetts’ health care law signed by Gov. Mitt Romney in 2006.
After the disastrous rollout of the health care website on Oct. 1, the Obama administration has said 4 million people have signed up for private coverage through the insurance exchanges although it is not known how many of them had been uninsured. The administration has said 9 million people are eligible for Medicaid, a number that includes renewals. Outside experts estimate that the Medicaid eligible number may be lower, around 3.5 million.
Republican leaders are struggling with whether to offer an alternative before the November elections, with some in the GOP ranks favoring an option and others arguing against any single bill.
Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., who is running for the Senate, rebuffed his leadership and voted against the bill.
"Once again, we see leadership attempting to fix a disastrous law that simply cannot be fixed," Broun said in a statement. "Obamacare is broken beyond the point of repair — and the only true fix is a swift, full, repeal."