By Kristina Peterson and Richard Rubin
WASHINGTON -- The House on Friday took its first procedural step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act, passing a budget that directs lawmakers to start drafting legislation to dismantle much of the 2010 health care law.
Already approved by the Senate, the budget resolution passed the House on a 227-198 vote. Nine Republicans voted with 189 Democrats to oppose the budget. No Democrats voted for it.
The measure will start the substantive work on measures to repeal portions of the health law, instructing two House and two Senate committees to come up with proposals by Jan. 27.
"We are on a rescue mission to prevent Obamacare from making things even worse," House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said this week.
The budget is designed to allow Republicans to take advantage of procedural shortcuts that let them pass legislation repealing much of the health law with just a simple majority in the Senate. Most bills need 60 votes to clear the Senate, where Republicans hold only 52 seats.
"If there's been one promise that Republicans have run off for the last six years, it is that we are going to do our best to repeal Obamacare," Rep. Mark Walker (R., N.C.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House, said Friday.
Mr. Walker said it had been helpful that some outside conservative groups had publicly supported the budget solely as a tool to repeal the health law, rather than as a budgeting document. That provided political cover to Republican lawmakers who had been uneasy over its spending levels, which some conservative said were too high. For example, Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, which has often clashed with GOP leaders, this week backed the budget as a means to start dismantling the health law.
"That gave a little bit of leeway for guys to get on board with it," Mr. Walker said.
The budget's spending levels are in line with those agreed to in a two-year budget deal reached by Congress and the White House in the fall of 2015. Changing them could complicate efforts to fund the government for the final five months of the fiscal year, after April.
Most Republicans have said they would focus on cutting spending when they write a budget this spring for the coming fiscal year 2018. That second budget is expected to start the process of passing a major tax bill.
Legislation rolling back the health law and potentially enacting steps to construct a new health care system will be drafted by the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees,with input from two Senate committees and leaders in both chambers.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R., Texas) said his panel aims to vote on its legislation during the week of Jan. 30, with the goal of having it on the House floor in February.
"We're going to strive toward that, but we want to get it right, and so if we're a day or two off, I'm not too worried," Mr. Brady said. There is effectively no penalty for failing to meet the Jan. 27 deadline in the budget.
President-elect Donald Trump has said that as soon as his Health and Human Services secretary is in office, he will submit his own plan for "essentially, simultaneously" repealing and replacing the health law.
Democrats noted that Republicans have yet to coalesce around a single plan for overhauling the health-care system.
"They have not offered a prescriptive manner in which to replace it, and you can see the confusion that has settled inon their side," said Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Write to Kristina Peterson at email@example.com and Richard Rubin at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 13, 2017 15:54 ET (20:54 GMT)
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