WASHINGTON - House Republicans voted on Wednesday to delay core provisions of President Obama's health-care law, emboldened by the administration's concession that requiring companies to provide coverage for their workers next year may be too complicated.
After a day of heated rhetoric, the House voted largely along party lines, 264-161, to delay by one year the so-called employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act. It voted 251-174 to extend a similar grace period to virtually all Americans who will be required to obtain coverage beginning Jan. 1, the linchpin of the law.
The dual political-show votes marked the 38th time the GOP majority has tried to eliminate, defund or scale back the law since Republicans took control of the House in January 2011. The House legislation stands no chance in the Democratic-run Senate.
The goal of the health-care law is to provide coverage to nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance and to lower skyrocketing costs. But in the three years since Obama signed his signature law, the public remains skeptical and the administration's abrupt decision earlier this month to delay the employer provision only fueled more doubts.
Republican foes welcomed it as a political gift, not only to assail Obama but to arrange votes that put House Democrats on record ahead of next year's congressional elections.
"This administration cannot make its own law work," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, during House debate.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the decision was "a clear signal that even the administration doesn't believe the country is ready to sustain the painful economic impact this law will have."
Eager to counter the Republican criticism, Obama plans to deliver remarks today focusing on rebates that consumers are already receiving from insurance companies under the health-care law.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama will draw attention to the 8.5 million consumers who have received an average consumer rebate of about $100. Carney also highlighted reports that some states are already anticipating lower premiums under the Affordable Care Act.
"Competition and transparency in the marketplaces, plus the hard effort by those committed to making the law work, are leading to affordable, new and better choices for families," Carney said.
The House vote delaying the employer requirement codified the administration's decision, but the White House insisted it was unnecessary and issued a tough veto threat. Democrats dismissed the entire GOP effort as just another fruitless attack on a law that has been upheld by the Supreme Court.
"Well, here we go again. Another repeal vote, another political sideshow," said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said it was "nothing more than a waste of time" as the health-care issue has been settled in Congress, the courts and in last year's presidential election when Obama won a second term.
In a series of unconventional political arguments, Republicans faulted Obama, who taught courses in constitutional law, for selectively enforcing the law. They accused a Democratic president of siding with business while ignoring the needs of average Americans.
"Let's provide the same relief to American families that Obama's promised to big business," said Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind.
House Democrats argued that the criticisms ignore the immediate advantages of the law, millions of young people who are able to remain on their parents' health care until age 26, preventive services and the millions of Americans who will have access to affordable care.
After each Republican spoke during House debate, Democrats described the specific benefits of the law in the GOP lawmaker's district.
Under the health law, companies with 50 or more workers must provide affordable coverage to their full-time employees or risk a series of escalating tax penalties if just one worker ends up getting government-subsidized insurance. Originally, that requirement was supposed to take effect Jan. 1. It will now be delayed to 2015.