Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) speaks during a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill after accepting delivery of signed petitions demanding the repeal of the health law.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) speaks during a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill after accepting delivery of signed petitions demanding the repeal of the health law. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
The formal title of the two-page bill the House is scheduled to vote on Wednesday is "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." But in the wake of the recent shootings in Arizona that killed six people and critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), the phrase "job-killing" was barely mentioned during the first few hours of debate on the House floor.
Instead, many Republicans used more restrained language to describe their distaste with the health measure passed last year.
"I support this legislation that repeals the Democrats' job-stifling, cost-increasing, freedom-limiting health care law," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Other Republicans, like Smith's fellow Texan Ted Poe, were able to make their feelings known by being pointed rather than personal.
"If you like the efficiency of the post office, the competence of FEMA and the compassion of the IRS, we will love the nationalized health care bill," Poe said.
A key reason the House is voting on the repeal bill even though leaders know it's unlikely to even get a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate is that dozens of new Republican members got elected in November, nearly every one of them promising to fight to get rid of it.
Many say the law simply gives the federal government too much power, particularly the requirement that nearly every American either have health insurance or else pay a penalty.
"If this law is constitutional, if Congress has such broad power, our limited federal government will have become limitless," said Michigan freshman Republican Justin Amash.
Democrats, meanwhile, let others do their most impassioned talking. They held an informal hearing featuring actual people who are benefiting from some of the parts of the law that have already taken effect.
Among them was Ed Burke of Palm Harbor, Fla., who has hemophilia. His medication alone can run $18,000 a week. That's pushing a million dollars a year. Burke, who was profiled by NPR last fall, has wrestled over the years with lifetime caps on various insurance policies he'd have on the job.
"Once you have reached your lifetime cap, you would be forced to pay the rest of your health care out of pocket or to change jobs and sometimes even careers in order to have health benefits and a new cap," he testified.
But Burke told the Democratic lawmakers he no longer has to worry, thanks to the new law.
"Our new patient's rights prohibit insurance companies from having such caps, and even removed annual limits so that any insured American can receive all the care they need without fear," he said.
The Democrats also heard from Claudette Therriault of Sabattus, Maine. Therriault and her husband are seniors on Medicare who have come face to face with the program's so-called doughnut hole. It forces people to pay for their own drugs while still paying monthly drug insurance premiums.
"We didn't foresee this, and it was devastating," Therriault told the Democrats of the thousands of dollars she and her husband, Richard, had to pay last year. "This is four house payments for us. We had to choose between defaulting on our loan or my husband's health."
Therriault says she is looking forward to this year, when the new law will provide a 50 percent discount for brand-name drugs once seniors reach that doughnut hole threshold.
But while the legislative battle is likely to end in a draw, at least for now, the battle for public opinion rages on. A new CNN poll provides more ammunition for both sides. For Republicans, it finds that half of those polled think the law should be repealed. But Democrats will take heart in the fact that nearly 80 percent of Americans favor at least some aspect of the health law.