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US Congress Resumes After Shooting, Begins Health Care Debate

Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner (file photo)
Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner (file photo)
Cindy Saine

The U.S. House of Representatives has resumed work after a one-week suspension following the near fatal shooting of an Arizona Congresswoman. The new Republican majority began debate on their top priority, repealing President Barack Obama's sweeping health care reform legislation passed last year.

The tone of the debate on the House floor was civil in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords that left members of Congress shaken.  But Democrats and Republicans still fundamentally disagreed on health care reform and on whether or not it would create or destroy jobs and increase or decrease the deficit.

The Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin laid out his party's position. "We believe we can get to the moment of having affordable health care for every American, regardless of pre-existing conditions without having the government take it over, without a trillion dollars of a combination of medicare benefit cuts and tax increases," he said.

The health care reform bill, when it is fully implemented, will require Americans to have health insurance, will extend coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans, and will not allow insurance companies to drop patients with pre-existing conditions.  Republicans argue that it will hurt the economy and that it extends government into private health care decisions.

Speaking for Democrats, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz delivered a fiery defense of a health care reform, which Democrats had been trying to get passed for decades.

"Health care repeal is the epitome of fiscal irresponsibility and it counters our most basic American values: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  We lose life when  insurance companies can freely drop those who are sick from coverage, we lose liberty when our seniors have to choose between medications and groceries, and we lose the pursuit of happiness if we return to the days when only job security guarantees health security," she said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders sent a letter to new House Speaker John Boehner earlier this month saying they have no plans to bring repeal legislation to the Senate floor - even if it passes in the House Wednesday, which is likely.  

President Obama has also said he would veto any repeal bill that comes to his desk.

Congressman Paul Ryan said House Republicans believe it is important to act on repeal, even if it has little chance of becoming law. "Others have been saying 'Well this is not going to pass the Senate, and the president is not going to sign it, so why bother doing that?'  If that is the logic we take on every bill we bring to the floor, then we ought to just go home.  We think it it is important to define ourselves with our actions, and that is why we are acting," he said.

House Republicans say they will try to find other ways to block the law or to starve it of funding.

On Thursday,  the House is expected to debate a measure instructing three House committees to create a substitute health care bill.

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