WASHINGTON — The Senate voted last week to keep the far-reaching health care overhaul law in place, turning away a Republican bid to cut off its funding.
Senators voted 45-52 to shelve an amendment by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would have stripped money to carry out the Affordable Care Act.
“ObamaCare should not be funded and implemented at a time when our economy is gasping for breath,” said Cruz, a freshman who made the amendment his first formal speech on the Senate floor.
In response, Sen. Tom Harkin D-Iowa, said the Cruz amendment was the 34th time a Republican has tried to do away with the health care law “and they failed very time.”
Noting that President Barack Obama was re-elected on a platform to implement the law, “We have already made our decisions on this and we are moving ahead,” Harkin said.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., voted for the Cruz amendment, while Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Arlk., voted against it.
The debate came on a bill that would fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The Senate was to continue on the bill into the new week.
During debate, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., proposed the government freeze hiring for “nonessential” personnel while the bureaucracy deals with the budget cut “sequester.”
While many federal workers are being furloughed from $85 billion in across-the-board cuts, “The government is seeking to hire travel specialists, recreation aides, public affairs specialists, outreach managers, librarians, historians, administrative assistants and many other nonessential positions,” Coburn said.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said a hiring freeze would achieve “only limited savings.” She said it would “force agencies to rely on contracting out functions the government should be handling or that are more expensive to outsource simply because they are not allowed to hire necessary staff.”
The Coburn amendment was defeated, 45-54. Boozman voted for it while Pryor voted against it.
House rebuffs Obama on welfare-to-work
The House voted 246-181 for a bill to block the Obama administration from waiving any work requirements for welfare.
The vote in the Republican-controlled body turned thumbs down on a gesture by the Department of Health and Human Services to grant states waivers of work-for-welfare rules if they could accomplish the same goals in other ways.
Republican charged the administration was “gutting” the landmark 1996 law that reformed welfare. Democrats denied that was the case.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said the 1996 law “has done a good job in reducing poverty in this country. … We should not allow the administration to undo, by an informational memorandum, what the Congress and presidents in the past have been able to accomplish by statute.”
But, responded Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.: “The president is not dropping welfare-work requirements, he’s allowing the states to experiment.”
“Once again the Republican majority in the House is proving that they never let facts get in the way of a good press release,” added Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, Tom Cotton, R-Dardenelle and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, voted for the bill.
Job training bill passed
The House voted 215-202 for a Republican bill that would consolidate three dozen job training programs.
Republicans said the new strategy would make it easier for people to get help, in keeping with a call from President Barack Obama to simplify job training.
Currently the government runs 47 job training programs through nine agencies, some of which were found by congressional investigators to overlap.
The bill also increases the influence of employers in shaping local job training efforts for in-demand occupations.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said the bill “will train workers for the jobs that do and will exist, not the jobs that did exist.”
Democrats protested the new arrangement would repeal programs that helped underserved populations of veterans, the homeless, Native Americans, farmworkers and the disabled.
Republicans also were accused of diminishing the influence of labor unions in job training programs.
Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., said the bill would “pit youth, older workers and workers with disabilities against each other for funding.” He added it would freeze job training funds for seven years, “even though funding for workforce programs has already been cut in half since 2001.”
Crawford, Cotton, Griffin and Womack voted for the bill.