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- Dubai 05:24 06:42 12:10 15:09 17:32 18:50
President Barack Obama's Republican foes muscled a symbolic bill calling for the repeal of his historic overhaul of US health care to passage in the divided House of Representatives on Thursday.
Obama's political antagonists, in control of the House since early January, got just three Democrats to break ranks in the 245-189 vote -- the opening battle of a political war set to shape the president's 2012 reelection bid.
But the repeal effort had virtually no chance of clearing the Senate -- where the Democratic leader has said he will not even bring it up for a vote, despite growing Republican pressure -- and none of overcoming Obama's veto.
"This is a vote for insurance companies. There is no other way to put it," said Mitch Stewart, the director of the political machine that grew out of Obama's historic 2008 White House victory, Organizing for America.
In a fundraising appeal sent by email shortly after the vote, Stewart accused Republicans of voting to return to "cruel and unjust" health care limits remedied by the law and vowed to "do everything we can to protect it."
But Republican House Speaker John Boehner said his party was keeping a campaign promise and warned the law would "increase spending, increase taxes and destroy jobs in America" if allowed to stand.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed not to bring the measure up for a vote in the Senate, sparing Democratic members who could be vulnerable in 2012 elections from a difficult vote.
"This is nothing more than partisan grandstanding at a time when we should be working together to create jobs and strengthen the middle class," he said.
House Republicans were to follow the vote by directing key committees to draw up their own legislation to replace the Democratic blueprint, while aiming to starve Obama's overhaul of funds needed to implement key provisions.
The vote came after hours of pointed but generally measured debate about the law, which stands among Obama's biggest domestic policy victories, alongside the most sweeping rewrite of Wall Street rules since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Both sides strove for generally calmer rhetoric in the wake of the assassination attempt 10 days ago on Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head.
But things still got heated.
"This is life and death," said Democratic Representative George Miller, who warned that repeal meant Americans would be denied vital care and would "go back into the clutches" of insurance company "bureaucrats."
Republican Representative Michele Bachmann, a self-described member of the archconservative Tea Party bloc, called the law "the crown jewel of socialism" and vowed Republicans "will not stop" until they "repeal" Obama and elect a president willing to scrap the health law.
Both sides were digging in for a lengthy struggle, with Republicans expected to target other key planks of the president's agenda and investigate his administration in a bid to sidetrack or hamper his reelection bid.
In a speech to the United Auto Workers union -- a key Democratic backer -- Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pleaded for help to save the legislation, which she steered to passage.
"This will be a long-term effort, and we need you to be the cavalry, storming Capitol Hill," she said.
The overhaul, which Obama signed in March 2010 after a year-long battle, is designed to extend coverage to 31 million of the 36 million Americans who currently lack insurance.
It requires most Americans to buy insurance and offers subsidies for low-income families to do so, while forbidding insurers from denying coverage because of preexisting medical conditions.
Recent polls have found the US public deeply divided over the law, but only about one in four favoring outright repeal.
Although the United States is the world's richest nation, it is the only industrialized democracy that does not provide health care coverage to all its citizens.
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