By Tracie Mauriello
The House voted Wednesday to repeal President Barack Obama's signature health care law, but don't cancel your medical appointments just yet.
Republicans have tried some 30 times to repeal all or part of the law since it passed in 2010, providing sweeping changes to the American health care system.
Wednesday's attempt is as doomed in the Democrat-controlled Senate as its predecessors.
The 244-185 vote was widely considered an exercise in election year politics that allowed the GOP to force Democrats to choose between supporting the president's top domestic policy or siding with voters who, according to polls, dislike it.
"This is a law the American people did not want when it was passed, and it remains a law that the American people do not want now," said Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a floor speech Wednesday. He said the vote was a chance to "tell the American people, 'We are on your side. We care about your health care. We want quality care and affordable costs. We listened and we've acted.' "
Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, called the repeal effort "blatantly political" and said the maneuver, if successful, would have allowed insurance companies to restore caps on lifetime benefits and would have kept health insurance out of reach for tens of millions of Americans.
"I hope that now, after 31 votes, House Republicans have gotten this out of their system and we can finally put it behind us, give the new law a chance to work and move on to the challenge of creating more jobs," he said.
The repeal vote came two weeks after the controversial law survived a constitutional challenge. The Supreme Court upheld it, energizing Republicans who pledged to fight for repeal and to work to oust the law's supporters from Congress.
"House Republicans are continuing their politically motivated attempts to repeal health care reform instead of responding to the priorities of the American public," said Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Philadelphia. "The Republicans are, again, asking Congress to strip Americans of the economic security that comes with access to continuous, affordable, meaningful health coverage."
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said repeal would harm children with pre-existing medical conditions, young adults who are able to stay on the parents' insurance policies until age 26 and senior citizens for whom the law increases coverage for prescription drugs.
Republicans, meanwhile, criticize the law for increasing taxes while causing insurance premiums to rise and directing tax dollars to abortions.
"It's making our economy worse, driving up costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire new workers," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
"There's a better way, and that's why we're here."
In a floor speech, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Centre, agreed.
Premium increases have become an incentive for employers to drop health plans for their workers, he said after the vote.
"The American people are fed up," Mr. Thompson said. "We must prevent this policy from doing more harm."
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Forest Hills, also supported the repeal effort, saying it caused sharp spikes in health insurance premiums.
"What we've seen is a law imposing a massive tax on hardworking Americans that will not only destroy jobs but will replace patient-centered health care with a European-style government health care system that will increase costs and diminish access to quality care," he said.
Democrats, meanwhile, accused Republicans for trying to repeal a law for which they're offering no alternative.
"The Affordable Care Act is flawed ... but there are good portions," said Rep. Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, a Democrat who broke ranks to oppose the law in 2010. "We need a fix, not a repeal that would take us back to the status quo."
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, has some ideas. He wants to allow people to carry their insurance with them when they change jobs, prevent companies from firing employees for being out sick, promote management of chronic diseases, and allow families to join groups and purchase insurance across state lines.
"I have never doubted my friends on the other side of the aisle's compassion or sincerity, but have always believed there was a better way of handling these health care costs to make sure that we all get the health care we need and the doctor we choose at a price we can afford," he said.
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Blair, and also voted for repeal.
"The government takeover of health care has saddled job creators with uncertainty and red tape, which is keeping them from hiring new workers and is becoming a serious roadblock to economic growth," he said.
Meanwhile, the atmosphere on the other side of the Capitol was equally political, but there taxes took center stage.
Senate Republicans tried to goad Democratic leaders into calling for a vote on a tax initiative Mr. Obama announced this week. The proposal would have provided a one-year extension on expiring Bush-era tax cuts for households with incomes less than $250,000.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., asked for a vote on that measure which would have forced Democrats either to reject the Obama plan or to vote for what he characterized as a tax hike on job creators.
He also asked for a vote on a more expansive alternative that would allow the tax cut to continue for everyone, including the wealthy.
"The Senate should make itself clear which policy it supports. This is our chance to do it," Mr. McConnell said in a floor speech Wednesday.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, put off the vote while Obama spokesman Jay Carney called Mr. McConnell's effort a gimmick.
The tax cut expires in January.