WASHINGTON - House Republicans promised voters last fall that they would repeal the health care law. Since that effort stalled in an uncooperative Senate, they have vowed to "defund" it so it can't be implemented.
On Feb. 18, they voted to add several amendments to the 2011 continuing resolution that funds government agencies that would remove funding needed to implement the law. That won't be enough to kill the law.
"It's not as easy as the Republicans have presented it," said Don Taylor, a public policy professor at Duke University. "The money's starting to be muddied up, and it's not quite so clear."
Here's the Republicans' problem: House rules state that "members cannot legislate on appropriations bills." In other words, they can't try to remove already-allocated mandatory funds - a tactic Republicans complained about when the Democrats controlled the House.
When Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced an amendment that would have put a hold on $105 billion that he said included all mandatory funding for the health care law in several agencies over the next 10 years, the House Rules Committee shot it down.
"You are asking us to change the rules here in the Rules Committee, and what that does is open us up to the same accusations that were made of our colleagues across the aisle over the last four years in terms of them not being fair to us," said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.
Republicans then tried to remove discretionary funding for the law from the 2011 continuing resolution. Among the measures that passed: Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., offered an amendment that would bar paying the salary of any employee in any agency working to implement the law; and Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., submitted an amendment that would prohibit the IRS from enforcing the individual mandate.
Senate Democrats have vowed not to consider any House proposals to stop implementation, and the president has threatened to veto a continuing resolution that includes them.
Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, said Affordable Care Act funding from the new budget - which goes into effect in October if approved - would affect several agencies, and would include new research, new buildings and 900 new employees at the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. The department has $465 million budgeted for the law.
"We will continue to implement the law while making the argument for adequate resources," Sebelius said.