By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Staging a fresh assault on President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform law, the Republican-led House of Representatives on Wednesday approved largely symbolic legislation to delay key coverage requirements.
The measures, the 38th and 39th House bills to take aim at the 2010 reforms known as Obamacare, would delay for a year the requirement that Americans obtain health insurance and would codify the Obama administration's recent decision to delay the mandate for larger employers to offer health coverage.
The White House's surprise announcement of the one-year employer delay this month sparked a new wave of Republican anger over the healthcare law that threatens to bleed into other issues, such as government spending legislation, in the next fiscal year.
Obama administration officials have insisted that the law's core provision, the requirement for uninsured Americans to obtain subsidized coverage through new online exchanges, will remain in place. Those with no coverage will face tax penalties starting in January.
The House voted 264-161 for the individual delay, and 251-174 in favor of the employer delay, with some Democrats joining the Republican effort.
The legislation stopped well short of previous efforts to fully repeal Obamacare, but gave Republicans a new chance to vent their frustration at the law and discredit it as the state-run insurance exchanges prepare to open in October.
"The delay of the employer mandate is the latest confirmation of the fatally flawed nature of Obamacare and the need to dismantle it," said Rep. John Kline, a Republican from Minnesota. "It isn't right to deny American families the same relief available to American businesses."
While the legislation faces a White House veto threat and is virtually certain to blocked in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Republicans insist they will keep trying to kill Obamacare and keep it alive as a 2014 campaign issue.
They argue that the law's mandates will drive up healthcare costs, stunt job growth and cause businesses to cut back employee working hours to avoid the coverage requirements.
Many Democrats derided the votes as another political sideshow consuming the House's time and energy. They pointed to new health insurance pricing information released by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday as evidence that the law will reduce coverage costs.
Cuomo's report showed that many New York state residents who buy health insurance next year will most likely see their premiums cut by half [ID:nL1N0FN186].
"What we're hearing right now is the sound of Republican heart rates going up: Obamacare is coming," said Representative Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington state. "These last benefits are going to happen - like it or not - and worse, they're going to work."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Republicans were simply trying "to refight old battles than have been fought."
He said Obama will give a speech on Thursday touting the healthcare law's benefits, including the 8.5 million consumers who are receiving an average $100 rebate this summer from insurance companies. The rebates are due to a provision in the law that requires companies to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical care, rather than on administrative costs.
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Caroline Humer; Editing by Stacey Joyce)