Senate set to ignore Obama veto threat, OK bill targeting health care law, Planned Parenthood

By ALAN FRAM, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Openly welcoming a preordained veto, Senate Republicans drove legislation toward passage Thursday aimed at crippling two of their favorite targets: President Barack Obama's health care law and Planned Parenthood.

Senate approval, which the House is expected to rubber stamp soon, would for the first time put legislation on Obama's desk demolishing his 2010 health care overhaul, one of his proudest domestic achievements. Congress has voted dozens of times to repeal or weaken the law, but until now Democrats have thwarted them from shipping the legislation to the White House.

Republicans said an Obama veto would underscore that a GOP triumph in next year's presidential and congressional elections would mean repeal of a statute they blame for surging medical costs and insurers abandoning some markets. They lack the two-thirds House and Senate majorities they would need to override a veto, assuring that the bill's chief purpose will be for campaign talking points.

"They can keep trying to talk past the middle class," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of Democrats, who he said were ignoring complaints about the law. "They can keep trying to deny reality. But they have to realize that no one is buying the spin but them."

Government officials said this week that health care spending grew at 5.3 percent in 2014, the steepest climb since Obama took office.

Democrats noted that under the law, millions of people have become insured and said their coverage has improved, with policies now required to insure a wide range of medical services.

"Do they talk to their constituents? Do they meet with them?" Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said of Republicans.

With just a 54-46 edge, Republicans had until now been unable to push such legislation through the Senate. This time, they used a special budget procedure that prevents filibusters — delays that take 60 votes to halt — and lets them prevail with 51 votes.

Party leaders initially encountered objections from some more moderate Republicans leery of cutting Planned Parenthood's funds and presidential contenders, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, who threatened to oppose the measure if it wasn't strong enough. By the time the vote approached, top Republicans expressed confidence that they would prevail.

The Senate bill would all but erase the health care overhaul by dismantling some of its key pillars, such as requirements that most people obtain coverage and larger employers offer it to workers.

Also eliminated would be its expansion of Medicaid coverage to additional lower-income people and the government's subsidies for many who buy policies on newly created insurance marketplaces, such as HealthCare.gov. And it would end taxes the law imposed to cover its costs, including levies on higher-income people, expensive insurance policies, medical devices and indoor tanning salons.

The bill would also terminate the roughly $450 million yearly in federal dollars that go to Planned Parenthood, about a third of its budget.

A perennial target of conservatives, the group has been under intensified GOP pressure this year for its role in giving fetal tissue to scientists. Citing secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing such sales, some abortion foes have accused the organization of illegally providing the tissue for profit. The group says the videos were deceptively doctored and say it's done nothing illegal.

As they worked through the bill, senators voted on a pile of amendments — all symbolic, since the measure was destined to never become law.

Senators rejected a pair of similar amendments that would have restored the Planned Parenthood money. They also blocked proposals aimed at tightening gun curbs, a response to Wednesday's mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, last week's fatal attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado and last month's terrorist massacre in Paris.

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