WASHINGTON - Shadowed by the recent Arizona shootings, the House began debate Tuesday on a Republican effort to repeal President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, with both sides taking pains to control the heated rhetoric that accompanied passage of the law last year.
Perhaps no other issue has altered the tenor of partisan debate in this country as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which helped cut short the careers of many congressional Democrats and handed Republicans the House majority.
The health care law ushered in a new political lexicon characterized by outbursts of “You lie!” and “Hell, no!” that framed much of the debate over these past two years.
Yet on Tuesday, lawmakers were restrained if divided. Democrats told emotional stories of constituents now benefiting from the new law – particularly children who can no longer be denied insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions. Republicans chiseled away at a “budget-buster” law they portray as government overreach at a time when the economy continues to struggle.
Obama issued a statement late Tuesday saying he is “willing and eager to work with both Democrats and Republicans to improve the Affordable Care Act. But we can’t go backward.”
Republicans largely ignored an attempt by Democrats to rename the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act” to temper the language following the Arizona shooting this month that killed six and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
But Republicans now mainly refer to the “job-destroying” health care law.
“Obviously there are strong feelings on both sides of the bill, and we expect the debate to ensue along policy lines,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the majority leader. “We are going to be about decency here and engage and promote an active debate on policy.”
The GOP’s pursuit of the weeklong debate carries political risks and rewards as the party fulfills a pledge to voters, including its tea party allies, for a swift repeal vote.
A new Associated Press-GfK poll this week showed just 1 in 4 Americans supports full repeal, while a CNN/Opinion Research poll released Tuesday said 50 percent support the repeal vote and 42 percent do not. Unlike CNN, the AP poll gave respondents the option of saying they would like the law changed, a choice favored by 43 percent.
The legislative outcome by week’s end will be no surprise: The House GOP is expected to easily pass the repeal, although it is not likely to advance in the Senate.