UPDATE: The US House of Representatives voted Wednesday to repeal the health reform law enacted by Congress last year, a largely symbolic move unlikely to be repeated in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The New York Times reported that the House voted 245 to 189 to repeal the law. In a surprising moment of political unity, only three Democrats voted with the Republicans.
ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS BELOW
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's Republican foes in the US Congress drove Wednesday towards a symbolic vote to repeal his historic health care law, the opening battle of a political war set to shape his 2012 reelection bid.
The Republican-led House of Representatives was set to approve a bill to roll back the law expanding health coverage and reining in insurance firms, which is reviled by conservatives but fulfilled a long-held liberal dream.
"It's going to increase spending, increase taxes and destroy jobs in America," said Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
But with the Senate in Democratic hands and Obama wielding presidential veto power, the plan was essentially stillborn, and amounted to a symbolic drive by Republicans to showcase their newfound power as the majority in the House.
"This is nothing more than partisan grandstanding at a time when we should be working together to create jobs and strengthen the middle class," said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Reid has vowed not to bring the measure up for a vote in the Senate, sparing Democratic members who could be vulnerable in 2012 elections from a difficult vote -- but faced increasing pressure from Republican leaders.
"The American people deserve a full hearing. They deserve to see this legislation go to the Senate for a full vote," said Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
House Republicans were to follow the repeal vote by directing key committees to draw up their own legislation to replace the Democratic blueprint, while aiming to starve Obama's overhaul of funds needed to implement key provisions.
Both sides were digging in for a lengthy battle, with Republicans expected to target other key planks of the president's agenda and investigate his administration in a bid to sidetrack or hamper his reelection bid.
In a speech to the United Auto Workers union -- a key Democratic backer -- Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pleaded for help to save the legislation, which she steered to passage in late 2009.
"This will be a long-term effort, and we need you to be the cavalry, storming Capitol Hill," she said.
On the House floor, lawmakers traded shots in a barbed debate that mostly kept with a kinder, gentler tone in the wake of a week-long truce decreed after an Arizona shooting rampage that left six dead and Democratic lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life.
But things still got heated.
"This is life and death," said Democratic Representative George Miller, a close Pelosi ally, who warned that repeal meant Americans would be denied vital care and would "go back into the clutches" of insurance company "bureaucrats."
Republican Representative John Kline accused Obama's overhaul of "job-killing" damage to the struggling US economy.
"It's time we return this House to the people, and we can start by repealing the job-killing, socialistic, and out-of-touch health care bill," said Republican Representative Jeff Duncan.
Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner warned anyone playing a "drinking game of 'you take a shot whenever Republicans say something that's not true' -- please assign a designated driver" to get home safely.
Democratic Representative Jim Moran accused Republican lawmakers who accept government-backed health care for themselves of being guilty of "the height of hypocrisy" for trying to roll back the legislation.
"Their children are covered, but what about the children of their constituents?" he thundered.
The overhaul, which Obama signed in March 2010 after a year-long battle, is designed to extend coverage to 31 million of the 36 million Americans who currently lack insurance.
It requires most Americans to buy insurance and offers subsidies for low-income families to do so, while forbidding insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions.
Recent polls have found the US public deeply divided over the law, with about half saying they oppose it but only about one in four favoring outright repeal, with others saying parts of the sweeping legislation must go and others saying the package did not go far enough.
Although the United States is the world's richest nation, it is the only industrialized democracy that does not provide health care coverage to all of its citizens.