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Senate blocks repeal of health care legislation; ‘disappointing,’ ERLC says

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate rejected legislation to repeal last year’s health-care reform law in a Feb. 2 result that came as no surprise.

The Democratic majority stuck together in a 51-47 vote that turned back a united Republican effort. Two senators who caucus with Democrats did not cast votes in a roll call that broke completely along party lines.

The repeal campaign by foes of the controversial law came to a halt two weeks after the House of Representatives had voted 245-189 in support of the repeal bill. While no Democratic senators voted for repeal, three House Democrats supported the bill in the Jan. 19 vote.

The repeal attempt appears dead legislatively, but the law’s fate in the courts remains unclear. The Senate vote came two days after a federal judge in Florida struck down the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the primary legislation in a two-measure, health-reform package. Federal judge Roger Vinson of Pensacola, Fla., ruled that the 2010 health-care law’s requirement that Americans purchase health insurance was unconstitutional. He invalidated the entire law, because he concluded the “individual mandate” was “an essential and indispensable part” that could not be separated from its other provisions.

So far, two federal courts have ruled in favor of the health-care law and two have ruled against it.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and other pro-life organizations oppose the health-care reform law because it authorizes subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion. Additional reasons for the strong disapproval of the law by the ERLC and others include its mandate that Americans purchase health insurance, the government’s greater involvement in medical care and what they say is the likelihood of an increase in both taxes and the federal deficit.

ERLC public policy specialist Barrett Duke described the Senate vote as “very disappointing,” adding that the failure of any Democrat to vote for repeal was “distressing.”

But the same day the repeal bill was defeated, the Senate passed a bill rolling back one part of the health care law that small businesses have called cumbersome. That bill, which would repeal an income tax reporting requirement, passed, 81-17. Duke called it evidence Democratic senators “know the law has deep problems.”

“That is just the first of many fixes the health-care law needs,” said Duke. “Senate Democrats should be willing to admit that they made a mistake when they passed the health-care law. Most of the American public already knows the law is a mistake. Hopefully Senate Democrats will get that message soon so we can get the current law repealed and get some realistic reforms put in place that actually will lead to less expensive, better quality health care for all Americans.”

The Family Research Council (FRC) applauded Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his effort at repeal and urged Republicans not to give up on overturning the law.

“We call on the Senate to put aside partisan differences and overturn this law that funds abortions in taxpayer dollars and puts bureaucrats between patients and their doctors,” FRC President Tony Perkins said in a written statement.

The ERLC sent a letter to McConnell several hours before the vote, commending his attempts at repeal.

The letter from ERLC President Richard Land to McConnell said the entity backs reform “that would preserve the private nature of our health care system while reducing costs, maintaining the highest possible standard of care, and ensuring that federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortion. Unfortunately, the [health-care reform] enacted last year fall[s] well short of these ideals.”

The reform measure’s flaws “are so integral to the health care law that we find it highly unlikely that they can be satisfactorily addressed on a piecemeal basis,” according to Land’s letter.

The ERLC and other critics also have cited as proof of the law’s problems the more than 700 one-year waivers granted to health-care plans by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Republicans had indicated they will target specific provisions in the health-care reform law for change if the repeal effort fails.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.