Neal, Ryan spar prior to House vote advancing ACA repeal

The House ultimately agreed to the resolution on a 227-198 vote

richard neal
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Springfield) is seen here in a WWLP file image from 2015

BOSTON, Mass. (State House News Service) – The U.S. House on Friday advanced a measure that paves the way for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but not before the dean of the Massachusetts delegation went toe-to-toe with Speaker Paul Ryan on the floor, calling the bid to dismantle the health care law “an effort at rhetoric.”

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal of Springfield, the highest ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, criticized the GOP for moving swiftly to repeal the ACA without detailing a plan for its replacement.

“We’ve waited seven years to hear the alternative,” he said. “We want to hear what the plan is, we want to understand what the alternative is, we want to know precisely what is going to be included — or just as importantly, what will be excluded — from the benefits that this Affordable Care Act has given to the American people.”

Neal cited the letter Gov. Charlie Baker sent this week to congressional leaders outlining his thoughts on how to “improve upon the goals” of the ACA. Baker, a Republican, stopped short of endorsing a full repeal of the law.

Ryan, who spoke from the floor immediately following Neal, said the resolution before the House would give Congress tools necessary to repeal the ACA and promised “a thoughtful, step-by-step process” to repeal.

“This is a critical first step towards delivering relief to Americans who are struggling under this law,” the speaker said. “Our goal is a truly patient-centered system, which means more options to choose from, lower costs, and greater control over your coverage. As we work to get there, we will make sure that there is a stable transition period so that people don’t have the rug pulled out from under them.”

The House ultimately agreed to the resolution on a 227-198 vote, with nine Republicans joining the Democrats in voting no. No Democrat supported the resolution. It was not immediately clear if all of Massachusetts’ representatives — all nine of them Democrats — voted on the resolution Friday. The U.S. Senate passed the same measure early Thursday morning on a 51-to-48 vote.

The House spent several hours debating a budget blueprint resolution that would pave the way for Republicans to gut the ACA without the possibility of a Democratic filibuster in the Senate. ACA repeal is a priority for Republicans who control both branches of Congress and President-elect Donald Trump, who will be sworn in next Friday.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the resolution instructs two House and two Senate committees to draft legislation by Jan. 27 to repeal the ACA.

About three hours before the vote, Neal argued on the floor that Republicans in Congress should be trying to work with Democrats to fix problems with the ACA “instead of saying ‘repeal and replace.'”

“How empty is that rhetoric?” Neal asked as his time expired.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — who was speaker when the ACA was adopted in 2010 — rebutted Ryan’s floor speech, arguing that because the ACA, Medicaid and Medicare have become so intermingled, repealing the ACA would be an “assault on Medicaid” and “an assault on families to have financial security.”

Republican opponents of the ACA say the law has led to rapidly rising insurance premiums after its proponents predicted lower cost plans.

Massachusetts in 2006 approved its own law expanding access to health insurance coverage and in 2012 passed another law aimed at keeping cost growth down. Overall health care expenditures in Massachusetts in each of the past two years have exceeded the state’s economic growth benchmark.

Copyright 2017 State House News Service