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House Republicans wasted no time during their first week in charge laying the groundwork for one of two priorities they say helped them win back the majority: repealing the Affordable Care Act. In his first press conference as House speaker, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio said repeatedly that ObamaCare would destroy the best healthcare system in the world and job creation.
“With 10% unemployment and massive debt, the American people want us to focus on cutting spending and growing our economy. That’s what repealing the healthcare law is all about,” Boehner told reporters last Thursday.
This battle between the GOP and Democrats over the issue is heating up as the US Labor Department’s recently-released jobs reports revealed that the overall unemployment rate dropped from 9.7% to 9.4%, which President Obama maintains represents 12 consecutive months of private sector job growth. The unemployment rate for African Americans, which fell from 16% to 15.8%, has fluctuated during the past year, however.
Despite the report, Boehner still views healthcare as a drag on the economy and dismissed an analysis of the Republicans’ proposal released earlier in the day by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, indicating that repeal of the law would result in a $230 billion deficit increase over the next 10 years and boost the number of uninsured by 32 million people. The CBO is “entitled to their own opinion,” Boehner said, and distributed a GOP report citing how the law would lead to a bigger deficit and job losses.
“For those in both parties who care about the deficit and our future fiscal course, the repeal of the ACA should concern them deeply,” says Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget. “Rising healthcare costs are the biggest driver of our long-term deficits, and getting them under control is crucial for the fiscal health of the nation and to keep our economy growing, creating jobs, and competing in the world economy.”
House Democrats condemned the effort as “political theater,” mostly because the Senate will not consider such a measure and Obama would veto any repeal bill if one reached his desk. “They don’t have the votes to get it through the Senate so they just want to create a spectacle here in the House,” says Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) “What they need to do is start working with us in trying to create jobs. That’s the challenge and that’s what the American people [need] right now.”
Rep. Allen West (R-Florida), an African American legislator who gained his seat with Tea Party support, says he’s following the mandate of his constituents. “I don’t think [a repeal] is symbolic, and if the Senate does try to stymie it then we have to look, piece by piece, at the measures we have to repeal.” Allen supports, however, key provisions such as coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and healthcare pools for small businesses. “Those are the things you definitely keep, but when you look at [the law] in the aggregate, that’s maybe five to 10 pages. It’s the other 2,490 pages that are definitely questionable,” West says. He also maintains that many employers have fired workers or converted them to part-time employees due to concerns about the bill’s costs.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) noted that 36,000 of the 103,000 jobs added in December were in healthcare fields. “We have created the need for doctors, nurses and others to serve the 35 million Americans who will be insured thanks to this reform. Now these opportunities have led to the job creation we need so badly,” he said in a statement. “To stop healthcare reform, to explode our deficit in a time of economic instability and to destroy both the need for jobs and the healthcare those workers will provide, is unthinkable to me.”