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Health Care Law Stuck in Limbo

While Parties Wait For High Court Ruling, Republicans Vote To Repeal CLASS Act

House Republicans on Wednesday took a symbolic swipe at President Barack Obama’s health care reform law when they voted to repeal its long-term care provisions, the CLASS Act, which the administration abandoned last year as unworkable. But conservative critics of the law shouldn’t hold their breath in anticipation of further votes between now and when the Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments on the law next month.

It was only the latest GOP swipe at the law. Republicans voted almost immediately after taking back the majority last year to repeal the landmark law. Although repeal efforts and their attendant votes remain popular with conservatives, they are less so with average voters, and Republicans are instead waiting for the high court to begin proceedings next month. A decision is expected by June.

“We voted to repeal the whole thing. What else can we do?” said Rep. John Shimkus, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which shares jurisdiction over health care issues.

As for the Republican Conference putting forward a replacement blueprint, the Illinois Republican said, “Why spend a lot of time, effort and energy on trying to figure that out when we really don’t have any idea” what the Supreme Court will decide.

Shimkus’ remarks illustrate the GOP’s conundrum. While Republicans are eager to tear down the law, Members are also concerned that picking away at it might lead to unintended consequences in court.

“The alternatives and timing are dependent on the court’s ruling. The committee’s goal is to use the next few months exploring the various options,” an Energy and Commerce spokesman said.

House committees share jurisdiction over health care issues. And just as Democratic chairmen fought over how to divide the workload when drafting their health care legislation in 2009, Republicans could see their chairmen squabble over control of bills that would replace the law.

For now, Members say they are focused on making an economic case against the law, arguing it increases costs and hurts small businesses. On Wednesday, GOP Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) called it the “single biggest impediment to job growth.”

Senate Republicans also called for their chamber to take up the CLASS Act repeal Wednesday, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noting that the Obama administration deemed the program financially insolvent last year when it stated it would no longer implement the long-term care program.

“As the House is showing today, if the president refuses to act on this most important issue, Congress will,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Regarding how they approach the law, Republicans have floated several piecemeal measures.

Amanda Austin of the National Federation of Independent Business, the group that alongside 26 states is challenging the health care law in the Supreme Court, said that even if the high court strikes down parts of the law, “we have some significant egregious provisions that are going to really impact employers come 2014.”

Austin, director of federal public policy at the NFIB, said House Republicans would be driving replacement legislation and noted that staff are working on proposals in preparation for the high court’s decision.

“It just seems to be very early [to guess] what kind of foundation the House wants to build on,” Austin said. “They may not be there yet, or maybe they’re just not telling me.”

The health care law turns 2 on March 23, and the high court’s proceedings are expected to occur shortly after that milestone. The proceedings will likely coincide with budget debates in the House.

Congressional Democrats last year blasted House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget for making sweeping reforms to Medicare and Medicaid, and they contend that their party won a special House election in upstate New York thanks to their messaging on those issues.

Party leaders are gearing up for a similar fight this year and will use the budget debate to position themselves as the party of better health care.

“Republicans voted to end the Medicare guarantee, and they voted to take away people’s rights and put insurance companies in charge,” a Democratic leadership aide said. “That’s their agenda, and that’s what we have to deal with.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who co-chairs the Democrats’ seniors task force, said the group will localize its messaging efforts with “truth squads” that participate in constituent events to pick apart the Republican budget and defend the Democrats’ health care law.

“More than ever, you’re going to see more message discipline,” the Illinois Democrat said. “This lie that it’s the Democrats that cut Medicare rather than improved it, that’s one of the things that [Republicans] rode to victory on in 2010, and we are not going to let that happen again.”

Like Republicans, Schakowsky said, Democrats feel like they are in a holding pattern until the court acts. But as the party gears up for the 2012 elections, during which health care will be a major issue, Schakowsky said, the party will point out the benefits of the health care law, including that it allows children in their early 20s to stay on their parents’ insurance plans.

“We’ll see what the court does and then we’ll have to develop a strategy,” she said. “But I think more and more people are beginning to understand the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.”

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