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Leahy, Sanders vote against health care repeal

February 2, 2011

NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — President Barack Obama’s landmark health care reform law survived a repeal vote in the Senate Wednesday with the help of Vermont’s two senators.

The U.S. House, now controlled by Republicans following the mid-term election last November, passed a provision in January that would repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law by Obama in March 2010.

But the Senate rejected wholesale repeal of the health care reform bill Wednesday on a 47 to 51 vote.

The health care votes cast Wednesday were amendments to a bill related to the Federal Aviation Administration and required 60 votes to pass according to rules in the 100-member body.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the health care reform repeal amendment offered by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., runs counter to a commitment of renewed cooperation sought by both parties. He derided the House vote last month as a “carefully staged show vote.”

“It is not hard to understand why I am disappointed that at the first opportunity, Senate Republicans have chosen to manipulate the open amendment process,” Leahy said. “The Senate minority is demanding a vote on an amendment to repeal the health care reform law in its entirety — an issue totally unrelated to the bill we are considering …”

Repeal would deny Americans care, Leahy said.

“When you boil away the rhetoric, the only alternative offered to the American people by advocates of repeal is: Don’t get sick,” he said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, also rejected repeal of the reform law.

“It is very hard for me to understand how anyone could be voting to repeal the entire health care bill because when you do that, among other things, what you are saying is that we will continue the odious practice of denying health care by insurance companies to people who have pre-existing conditions,” Sanders said.

He said the bill should remain, and Congress should allow states to craft their own programs under the federal legislation, as Vermont aims to do.

“I think if we maintain standards that are high and give states flexibility, this can improve the health care reform bill that we passed last year. But Killing this whole bill makes no sense to me at all,” he said.

McConnell promised continued Republican efforts to repeal the what he referred to as the “Health Spending Bill.”

“The Senate Republicans promised the American people we would vote to repeal Obamacare, and we have done that. But this fight isn’t over,” McConnell said. “We intend to continue the fight to repeal and replace Obamacare with sensible reforms that would lower the cost of American health care, like medical malpractice, like selling insurance across state lines,” he said.

The Senate did agree Wednesday to repeal a requirement in the health care reform law that required businesses to report annual vendor purchases over $600 to the Internal Revenue Service. The repeal of the reporting requirement passed overwhelmingly, 81 to 17.

Meanwhile, Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, defended the health care law as constitutional. His committee held a hearing Wednesday on the matter. A dozen federal courts have already rejected legal challenges to the
law and four other courts have heard arguments about the constitutionality of the bill. So far, two courts have upheld the law as constitutional and two have not found it unconstitutional. The matter is likely to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Leahy said he is certain the law is proper.

“I have no doubt that Congress acted well within the bounds of its constitutional authority in working to secure affordable health care for all Americans,” Leahy said. “The language and spirit of the Constitution provides for such action, as does judicial precedent and prior acts of Congress to protect hardworking Americans in the national health care market and promote the general welfare. I hope that the independent judiciary will not seek to cast aside this landmark legislation or Congress’ ability to act to protect the American people.”

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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