WASHINGTON - A day after their vote to repeal President Barack Obama's landmark health care law, House Republicans moved yesterday to put their own stamp on the issue, starting with the volatile topic of abortion.
The highly charged issue nearly scuttled passage of the health care law last year. The move to reopen that debate is part of an emerging GOP strategy to attack the health care law piece by piece and promote ideas of their own.
It could also drive a wedge between the majority of Democratic lawmakers who support abortion rights and a smaller group of abortion opponents within their ranks who signed on to the compromise, thereby providing the critical margin to pass the overhaul last year.
GOP lawmakers introduced two separate bills to toughen restrictions on taxpayer funding of abortions, arguing that the language now in the law is weak. Leaders promised swift action.
"Clearly there's an awful lot of doubt as to where the administration really is on this issue," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), calling the abortion legislation one of his top priorities. "I think the will of the people is that we enact this clear-cut prohibition on the use of taxpayer funds for elective abortions."
"The tree is rotten, so you have to cut it down," said Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). "If we can't do that all at once, prune it branch by branch."
Among other health care issues getting immediate attention from Republicans: curbs on jury awards in medical malpractice cases, and rescinding an unpopular requirement that businesses report purchases of $600 or more to the IRS.
Yesterday the House voted 253-175 along party lines to instruct committees to begin the work of replacing what Republicans dismiss as "Obamacare."
The GOP move on abortion puts ideology ahead of pocketbook issues, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a leader on women's rights.
"These are folks who came to town saying they'd create jobs and get the economy back on track," DeLauro said of the new Republican majority. "This legislation goes far beyond current law. Given the opportunity to govern, they are once again trying to deny women's access to abortion."
Federal law prohibits federal funding for abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Known as the Hyde amendment, that basic prohibition is incorporated in many laws and generally has to be renewed annually in spending bills.