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House debate on health care repeal: Boss Hogg or Groundhog Day?

By Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 5:36 PM EDT, Tue July 10, 2012
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor joins a Republican news conference Tuesday to discuss repeal of the health care law.
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor joins a Republican news conference Tuesday to discuss repeal of the health care law.
  • NEW: House debate includes off-beat references to popular culture
  • Democrats tie the federal health care law to Mitt Romney
  • A repeal vote Wednesday will be the latest House GOP attempt to undermine Obamacare
  • Even if passed by the House, the repeal measure has no chance of passing the Senate

Washington (CNN) -- House Republicans launched an all-out assault Tuesday against President Barack Obama's signature health care reform law, holding a series of committee hearings and other events ahead of a planned vote Wednesday on repealing the measure.

The vote will be the latest of more than 30 House GOP efforts to undermine the 2010 Affordable Care Act, including previous Republican-led moves to repeal the measure or cut funding for various provisions.

Any House repeal effort is sure to die in the Democratic-led Senate, and the White House made clear Obama would veto such a measure.

At news conferences, in media interviews and before congressional panels on Tuesday, GOP opponents of the health care law depicted it as an unwarranted government intrusion in health decisions that would reduce patients to commodities treated on a cost basis.

"This is all about the government. It is Washington knows best, and it is wrong," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Michigan, in floor debate ahead of the Wednesday vote.

Republicans also complained that the bill known as Obamacare would fail to control spiraling health care costs, and that it included new taxes and fees despite the president's promise not to raise middle-class taxes.

To Democrats, the entire exercise was an unnecessary repetition of past political posturing on a settled issue, now that the Supreme Court has upheld the law's constitutionality.

"This repeal vote is a waste of time and tax dollars," said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, while Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, noted, "We've had this debate so many times that it really sounds like we just keep repeating the same thing."

Other legislators tried to liven up the rhetoric with references to popular culture. Democrats mentioned the movie "Groundhog Day," about a character forced to live the same day over and over, while Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, likened Republican obsessiveness on the issue to the Glenn Close character in "Fatal Attraction."

Wondering if Republicans had "finally hit their 'boil the bunny' moment" -- a gruesome incident in the film -- Murphy challenged GOP colleagues to work with Democrats on moving forward "instead of channeling their inner Glenn Close."

Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia chose to compare Obama to Boss Hogg, the unethical county commissioner from "The Dukes of Hazzard" television show. Gingrey stood next to a poster featuring the character's photo that said: "You can have whatever you like ... as long as THE BOSS approves it."

"Let's get rid of the boss, once and for all," Gingrey said.

How are you affected by the health care ruling? Share your views in the iReport Debate

The daylong GOP attacks were intended to ignite public opposition to the law and force Democrats to publicly defend it. Republicans made clear that the goal is to inspire voters to rally against the law and Obama in the November presidential election.

"If you give us more elected representatives to fix this problem, we will fix this problem in 2013," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said in an interview with CNBC.

Wednesday's vote will be the first on the subject since last month's Supreme Court ruling, which Democrats argue should have ended the political debate over the health care law, rather than revive the Republican repeal effort.

What the Supreme Court ruled on health care 'tax'

On Monday, the White House formally notified House leaders that Obama will veto any repeal bill that manages to reach his desk, saying repeal "would cost millions of hard-working middle-class families the security of affordable health coverage and care they deserve."

"The last thing the Congress should do is refight old political battles and take a massive step backward by repealing basic protections that provide security for the middle class," a White House statement said. "Right now, the Congress needs to work together to focus on the economy and creating jobs."

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But Republicans, led by certain presidential nominee Mitt Romney, call for eliminating the law and starting over on the complex issue that affects every American.

"That's why we've voted over 30 times to repeal it, defund it, replace it. And we are resolved to have this law go away and we're gonna do everything we can to stop it," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Tuesday.

Democrats repeatedly noted the federal law was modeled after a Massachusetts health care law implemented by Romney when he was governor.

"It would have been relevant if we could have had a doctor from Massachusetts be part of this hearing," Rep. William Clay, D-Missouri, told a House Oversight subcommittee hearing on the law's effect on the health care industry. "You know, their views would have been relevant since for the past five years they have been living with comprehensive health care reform, signed into law by Gov. Mitt Romney, that is substantially similar."

At the hearing, the lone Democratic witness on the panel of five people who testified noted support for the health care law by major national organizations including the American Medical Association, the American Association of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicans, the AARP advocacy group for senior citizens and others.

However, the witness, Ron Pollack of Families USA, was repeatedly cut off by Republicans on the panel when he responded to questions they asked him. Three times, Pollack was admonished to limit his responses to "yes" or "no" by the GOP committee members.

Republican witnesses, meanwhile, said the health care law would deny people medical care based on need, saying cost would be the determining factor.

Dr. Dick Armstrong of Docs4PatientCare, an advocacy group opposed to the federal law, said the act destroys the doctor-patient relationship, adding: "This is the reality of Obamacare. There is no care."

The GOP's conservative base strongly opposes the individual mandate in the law, which requires people to obtain health insurance or pay a fine.

What the health care ruling means to you

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the mandate is constitutional under the government's taxing authority, and Republicans have jumped on that to characterize the provision as a tax increase on middle-class Americans.

Obama and Democrats respond that only people who can afford health insurance but choose not to get it would have to pay, amounting to about 1% of the population.

The health care issue has been among the most divisive of Obama's presidency. Conservative anger over the measure helped launch the tea party movement, and conservative groups joined with industry groups to fund a giant public pressure campaign against the legislation, which Democrats pushed through Congress with no Republican support.

Some provisions already have brought popular benefits, such as preventing insurance companies from denying coverage for children with pre-existing conditions.

The bulk of the health care law will take effect in 2014, including health insurance exchanges to provide options for individuals and small businesses to purchase coverage. Full implementation also will expand benefits, such as preventing insurance companies from denying coverage for adults with pre-existing conditions.

Romney, while pledging to repeal the health care law if elected, also says some provisions of it should be maintained, including the ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

How the Justices voted, what they wrote

CNN's Paul Steinhauser, Alan Silverleib, Deirdre Walsh and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

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