US President Barack Obama's fired-up Republican foes flexed their newfound political muscle on Friday, targeting his signature health care overhaul with a wholly symbolic repeal test vote.
The House of Representatives, in Republican hands for two days, was to take up a measure laying out the rules for debate come January 12, when lawmakers will vote on whether to roll back the landmark legislation.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he will not bring any repeal of the health law up for a vote, and Obama has vowed to veto any such effort, each pledge enough by itself to doom the plan.
House Republicans have the votes to muscle the repeal to passage in the lower chamber, and have underlined that they are keeping a core promise that helped power them to a romp over Democrats in November 2 elections.
"With 10 percent unemployment and massive debt, the American people want us to focus on cutting spending and growing our economy, and that is what repealing the health care law is all about," Republican House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Thursday.
Polls show the US public is divided on rolling back Obama's hard-fought achievement, with 46 percent in favor, 40 percent opposed and 14 percent expressing no opinion, according to a new survey by the Gallup organization.
Gallup found Republicans overwhelmingly in favor of repeal, Democrats overwhelmingly against and independent voters -- who typically make the difference in US elections -- favoring repeal by a 43-39 margin.
The poll, which had an error margin of plus or minus four percentage points, echoed analysts who say the vote aims to keep Republicans in the good graces of the arch-conservative "Tea Party" activists who helped power their election win.
House Democrats, led by speaker-turned-minority-leader Nancy Pelosi, have warned repeal would wipe out key benefits and cited a study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office showing repeal would add 230 billion dollars to the swollen US deficit.
"Democrats will judge what comes before Congress by whether it creates jobs, strengthens our middle class and reduces the deficit. On all three of these tests, the repeal of patients' rights fails," Pelosi said Friday.
While Republicans lack the clout for outright repeal, the vote will merely be the starting gun for a much longer fight, as House Republicans could opt to deny funds needed to implement some of the legislation's key provisions, triggering a battle with the Senate.
The Republican strategy calls for re-examining the health overhaul in three key committees as part of a strategy to keep popular parts of the legislation intact but replace Democratic approaches with Republican ones.
And in some cases, House Democrats may support at least minor changes to the legislation: They voted last year to erase a widely criticized requirement that individuals who purchase more than 600 dollars in medical goods or services per calendar year file notice with US tax authorities.
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.
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.
Washington spends more than double what Britain, France and Germany do per person on health care -- but it still lags behind other countries in life expectancy and infant mortality, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).