WASHINGTON - The U.S. Congress has approved the first step toward repealing President Barack Obama's signature health care law.
House Republicans voted on a budget measure instructing committees to draft legislation to dismantle the law by a target date of January 27.
The Senate approved the same measure for the Affordable Care Act, widely known by the informal name Obamacare, on Thursday. Both votes were made along party lines, with no Democrats supporting the initiatives.
The budget measures also prevent Democrats from using a Senate filibuster to repeal and replace Obamacare. This step is necessary for Republicans because it takes 60 votes to end filibusters, while Republicans only have a Senate majority of 52-48.
The measure does not need Obama's signature because it is part of an internal congressional budget process.
In the past few years, the House has voted more than 60 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but Republicans had no hope Obama would sign the legislation as long as he was in office.
President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to overturn Obamacare and has urged Congress to replace the Democratic program quickly. Republicans in Congress have not said yet what they will propose as a substitute.
The health care law enacted in 2010 has resulted in 20 million previously uninsured Americans obtaining coverage, but it has been plagued by difficulties, including rising premiums and some large private insurers' decision to leave the system.
Public-opinion polls indicate a broad majority of Americans oppose repealing the health care law unless there is an acceptable substitute plan.
The House minority leader, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, criticized Republicans for failing to propose a specific alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
"Republicans talk about how they're going to repeal and replace,” she said. “Interesting, alliteratively, but not realistic. ... For six years, they have had a chance to propose an alternative; we've seen nothing."
Pelosi charged that Republicans' stance amounts to nothing more than "cut and run" — abandoning the law hastily, without solving its problems. "They want to cut benefits and run," she said. "They want to cut savings and run. They want to cut access [to insurance] and run."
House Speaker Paul Ryan, her counterpart from the majority party, said Obamacare was collapsing and that quick action is needed.
"This experiment has failed. This law is collapsing while we speak. We have to step in before things get worse," Ryan said. "This is nothing short of a rescue mission. By taking this step today, we are doing what is right."