5:05pm

Tue February 22, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

GOP Counts The Ways To Defund Health Law

Did House Republicans keep their promise to defund the health care overhaul as part of their bill to cut more than $60 billion from the federal budget for the rest of the fiscal year?

You betcha. They've come up with more than half a dozen ways to throttle spending on overhaul, in fact.

Most of the attention went to the amendment to the spending bill offered by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT). Rehberg, who chairs the spending subcommittee that oversees the Department of Health and Human Services, offered language to the bill that would bar the use of funds to pay the salaries of any HHS "employee, officer, contractor, or grantee" to implement the health law. It passed on a 239-187 vote, almost exclusively along party lines.

But just in case that doesn't work, House Republicans passed several other amendments as well.

Now you may be thinking, well, this particular bill isn't going anywhere, since the Senate has already said it won't vote for cuts as deep as the House is demanding, and President Obama has already threatened a veto of the measure, even before the language was added to try to block his signature domestic policy achievement.

But it's worth a look at some of these other GOP health amendments, not only to get a peek at the party's strategy going forward for the rest of the year, but to get an idea where Republicans think the health measure's soft spots are that could win over some wavering Democrats.

As it turned out, there weren't many waverers in the House. None of the amendments got more than eight Democratic votes (and even the overall bill got three Democratic 'ayes.').

But Republicans seemed to zero on in what they — and many opinion polls — perceive as the least popular aspects of the measure.

For example, by a vote of 246-182, the House adopted an amendment by Rep. JoAnn Emerson (R-MO) that would bar the IRS from implementing or enforcing the portion of the law that requires nearly every American to have health insurance starting in the year 2014. That was the high water mark for Democratic support, at eight.

The House also adopted an amendment, 241-185, by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) that would block funding for rules that require insurers to spend a minimum percentage of their premium revenues on medical care. The so-called "medical loss ratio" rules are in effect as of this year.

Two other Republicans sought to make it more difficult for the federal government to build the infrastructure the law needs to expand insurance coverage starting in 2014. By a vote of 241-184 members adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) to bar funding for creation of state health insurance exchanges, while they voted 239-183 for an amendment offered by Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R-PA) to block funding of rules defining "essential benefits" all health plans must include.

At least a couple of amendments, however, didn't make the cut. Because the measure under consideration last week was technically a spending bill, it was subject to strict rules that prohibit changing legislative language.

When Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) challenged one amendment offered by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) for violating that rule against legislating on a spending bill, however, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) mockingly jumped to King's defense.

"The point of order suggests the gentleman is legislating on an appropriation bill. I have watched those guys. They are incapable," Weiner said. "Almost metaphysically impossible for the gentleman to be legislating. He doesn't know how. How could we possibly have legislating in this bill?"

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), who was acting as speaker at the time, dryly responded, "The chair is prepared to rule and has been entertained." Bishop then ruled that the amendment was in fact legislating and was out of order. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.