WASHINGTON — Like much of the nation, Washington state's congressional delegation is split down the middle on the question of whether to junk the landmark law signed by President Barack Obama in March of last year.
Republican Rep. Doc Hastings says that if Congress doesn't repeal the nation's health care law, it ultimately will lead to a government-run system.
"Government-run systems have always — always — led to rationing," he said. "And I don't think that's in the best interests of our country."
Democratic Rep. Adam Smith says the law should stay on the books because it offers hopes of lower costs and better care in the long run.
"This notion that the majority party has been peddling that there's some easy solution here ... is spectacularly ignorant of the depth of the problem," he said.
All four Republicans — Hastings, Reps. Dave Reichert, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler — back a proposed repeal, while all five Democrats — Smith, Reps. Norm Dicks, Rick Larsen, Jay Inslee and Jim McDermott — oppose it.
When they return to work this week, Republicans who control the House are expected to deliver on one of their biggest campaign promises by voting to kill the law.
In a new era of divided government, their victory could be short-lived: When the issue moves to the Democratically-controlled Senate, Washington state's Patty Murray is among a group of four senior senators vowing to block the repeal by denying it a vote.
But Murray acknowledged that a repeal approved by the House would put "tremendous pressure" on the Senate to follow suit.
Murray, the new head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is already using the repeal effort as a way to raise money for her party's candidates in 2012.
"Repeal would have real-life consequences," Murray wrote in a fundraising letter. "Your diabetic sister would lose coverage due to a pre-existing condition. Your young adult son could be kicked off the family insurance plan. And your niece, born with a heart condition, could be denied insurance to boost corporate profits."
Murray teamed up with three Democratic senators — Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York — in writing a letter to House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, urging him to not take up the repeal.
The sweeping law, approved when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, prohibits insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions. It allows adults up to 26 to be covered by their parents' insurance plans. And it makes it illegal for insurers to place annual and lifetime limits on coverage, among other things. In addition, the law provided Medicare recipients with a $250 rebate to help them pay for prescription drugs.
McMorris Rodgers, one of the Republican leaders as vice chair of the party's House conference, said a majority of Americans want to see the law repealed. A Gallup poll released earlier this month found that 46 percent of Americans want the law repealed, while 40 percent want the law left alone; 14 percent had no opinion.
"I think we can do better. ... This bill is not bringing down health care costs," she said. "In fact, premiums are increasing, and I do believe that it also threatens the quality of health care that we've enjoyed in this country."
Herrera Beutler, a freshman who joined the House just this month, said repealing the bill would allow the health care system to operate without government intervention. Among her ideas: allowing people to purchase health insurance plans across state lines, expanding the use of health-savings accounts, and allowing small businesses to pool together to offer employees lower health care rates.
"I support a repeal, but I also support replacing it with free-market reforms that are not going to drive up the cost of the debt and deficit for future generations," Herrera Beutler said. "And that's important to me. I get to live under the laws that I'm going to be voting on. ... Repealing this bill is the first step."
Smith said a repeal is unacceptable because it would be "going back to square one, to where our health care policy was at two years ago, when health care inflation was just completely out of control and no one was doing anything to try to fix it."
"I just think people need to step up and understand the difficulty of health care policy, and that's one of the things that we did in the last Congress," he said. "We had the courage to confront a difficult public policy question, and now we're going back to ducking them. And I don't think that's good."
Larsen said a repeal would cost taxpayers more, citing a report by the Congressional Budget Office, which found that it would add $230 billion to the federal deficit by 2021.
And he said that an estimated 20,000 young adults in Washington state would no longer be eligible for insurance coverage under their parents' policies if Republicans repeal the law.
"I don't feel that's right that we take that away," he said.