Published December 23, 2015
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, building steam off a federal judge's ruling against the new health care law, moved Tuesday to force a vote on abolishing the law by offering the House-passed repeal bill as an amendment on the Senate floor.
As Democrats vowed to crush the GOP-led campaign, McConnell urged his colleagues to take a second look at the law in light of public criticism and the recent legal action.
"We have an opportunity today. ... It's an opportunity to reevaluate your vote," McConnell said. "You can say, 'perhaps this was a mistake, we can do this better.' Or you can continue to dismiss the majority of the people in this country as not knowing what they're talking about."
McConnell offered the repeal proposal as an amendment to a separate FAA funding bill.
Moments earlier, Senate Democrats vowed to defeat the amendment, expected to come up for a vote Wednesday. Republicans, who have all 47 members of their caucus on board for the repeal vote, would need to amass 60 votes to overcome the procedural hurdle Democrats plan to erect. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Republicans of trying to help the insurance companies and assured that the bill would not go anywhere. He called it a "deficit-buster."
The fast-moving debate comes after Florida District Court Judge Roger Vinson declared the so-called individual mandate unconstitutional and said the entire law should be voided as a result. The White House on Monday panned Vinson's decision as an outlier. Administration officials said the opinion will not stop the states from implementing the law and expressed confidence that it would ultimately be ruled constitutional by a higher court. The Department of Justice is appealing Vinson's ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
But the ruling fueled congressional Republicans' uphill campaign to repeal the law. Though the repeal bill, which passed the House last month, would almost certainly not survive a presidential veto should it somehow pass the Senate, the campaign continues to focus attention on the bill's alleged flaws nearly a year after it was passed.
The administration has indicated a desire to move past that debate, but the multi-front court battle makes that a difficult task -- particularly because it gives the law's most ardent foes hope.
Nearly two dozen suits have been filed in the federal courts, but Monday's ruling is the biggest judicial decision to come down the pike. In other cases, a federal district judge in Richmond, Va., ruled the individual mandate is unconstitutional but left standing other parts of the law. In Michigan, the argument against the "individual mandate" -- the central tenet that requires Americans to start buying health insurance in 2014 or pay a penalty -- was rejected by another federal judge.
Defenders of the law say that Americans need to be covered from ruthless insurance companies that either refuse to insure children with illnesses and adults with pre-existing conditions or charge exorbitant amounts for individual coverage. The law aims to provide a federal umbrella under which Americans can purchase and keep insurance regardless of their health, career changes or ability to pay.
"Lawsuits and lawmakers' efforts to repeal this bill are nothing more than an attempt to raise taxes on small businesses, add a trillion dollars to the deficit, force seniors to pay more for their prescriptions, and let insurance companies once again stand in the way of a child and the medical care he or she needs," Reid said in a statement Tuesday.
But in his ruling, Vinson said Congress "exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the act with the individual mandate."
"That is not to say, of course, that Congress is without power to address the problems and inequities in our health care system. The health care market is more than one-sixth of the national economy, and without doubt Congress has the power to reform and regulate this market. That has not been disputed in this case. The principal dispute has been about how Congress chose to exercise that power here," Vinson wrote.
"While the individual mandate was clearly 'necessary and essential' to the act as drafted, it is not 'necessary and essential' to health care reform in general," he continued. "Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire act must be declared void."
With several conflicting opinions already on the table -- two for, two against -- several Republican attorneys general fighting the law said they think the U.S. government is playing the "delay game" at America's expense. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told Fox News that going through the appeals court is a waste of time and money and that the case should just be fast-tracked to the Supreme Court, where many expect the issue will be decided.
The ruling may have opened up a crack on the Democratic side. Moderate Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., noting he opposed the mandate in the first place, said Tuesday that while he does not want the entire law repealed he supports efforts to change the mandate itself.
"I don't know if it needs to go to (the Supreme Court) to work on the mandate," he said. Nelson also told Fox News he would support a proposal from Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., allowing states to opt out of the most significant mandates in the law.
In making his argument, Vinson threw back at the Obama administration President Obama's own words from the 2008 presidential campaign, when the president as a candidate voiced opposition to the idea of forcing people to buy health insurance.
"Indeed, I note that in 2008, then-Senator Obama supported a health care reform proposal that did not include an individual mandate because he was at that time strongly opposed to the idea, stating that 'if a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house,'" Vinson wrote.
Department of Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the department plans to appeal Vinson's ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"We strongly disagree with the court's ruling today and continue to believe -- as other federal courts have found -- that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional," she said. "There is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing this law and we are confident that we will ultimately prevail on appeal."