Political News

House Democrats force GOP to vote on protecting Obamacare

Posted January 9, 2019 5:26 p.m. EST

— The House voted Wednesday on a resolution affirming the chamber's authority to defend the Affordable Care Act in federal court.

The move was designed by newly empowered Democrats to put Republicans on the record voting for or against protecting Obamacare and its safeguards for those with pre-existing conditions. The GOP has for years fought against the law, with House Republicans voting in 2017 for repeal.

Wednesday's vote was 235 to 192, with three Republicans supporting the measure.

Lawmakers last week approved a rules package for 116th Congress that gave the House the ability to intervene in a lawsuit that threatens to bring down the landmark health care law. The new rule directs the House's Office of General Counsel to represent lawmakers in any litigation involving the act and authorizes hiring of outside counsel.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New Yorker and chair of the Democratic caucus, said earlier Wednesday that the standalone resolution is an opportunity to demonstrate support for the law.

"This issue is so significant that we believe outside of the context of the rules package, we want to give our colleagues -- Democrats and Republicans -- the opportunity to go on record and declare do you stand with the American people as it relates to the Affordable Care Act and protecting people with pre-existing conditions?" Jeffries said prior to the vote.

A federal judge in Texas last month ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional because Congress eliminated the individual mandate penalty by reducing it to $0, starting this year.

District Judge Reed O'Connor found that renders the mandate itself unconstitutional and the rest of the law therefore cannot stand. But he issued an order in late December saying that the act can remain in effect pending appeal.

The Trump administration is not defending Obamacare from the lawsuit, which was filed by a coalition of Republican-led states.

This prompted a group of Democratic states to step in. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is leading that group, filed to appeal O'Connor's ruling last week.

Supporting the Affordable Care Act, including its popular provisions that protect those with less-than-perfect health histories, helped Democrats retake the House in the midterm elections in November. Since then, the party's leaders have repeatedly said they will swiftly work to uphold the law.

The move to intervene, however, is largely symbolic. The case is now working its way through the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The bill was also designed to give Democrats a chance to be on the record supporting it.