House Condemns Trump Administration for Legal Attack on Health Law

WASHINGTON — The House voted Wednesday to condemn the Trump administration for pushing a federal appeals court to obliterate the Affordable Care Act, and it urged the Justice Department to defend the law in court.

The vote, 240-186, was nonbinding, but it documented the House’s support of the health law, which was passed nine years ago without the votes of any Republicans. With the resolution, Democrats sought to put Republicans on the record for failing to come to the defense of the health law’s most popular provisions, such as protecting people with pre-existing medical conditions and mandating coverage for “essential health benefits,” like mental health coverage, prescription drugs, emergency services and maternity care.

Eight Republicans voted for it. One Democrat opposed.

“The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, and it is the responsibility of the Justice Department and the administration to defend the law of the land in court,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said. “What are they doing? Just the opposite. Why? Because they don’t believe in governance. That is why they are happy to shut down government.”

The resolution, which expresses the sentiment of the House but is not subject to approval by the Senate or by President Trump, states, “The actions taken by the Trump administration seeking the invalidation of the A.C.A.’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and later the invalidation of the entire A.C.A., are an unacceptable assault on the health care of the American people.”

Republicans called it an empty gesture.

“This will do nothing for your health care,” said the House Republican leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California. “But what will it do? It will make a great press release.”

Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, said the resolution was a political screed and “doesn’t do a darn thing to protect people with pre-existing conditions.”

“Democrats would rather play politics with health care and attack the president for political purposes, rather than work with us on what could and should be bipartisan solutions,” Mr. Walden said.

Democrats relished the opportunity to test Republicans’ commitment to health care, an issue sure to figure in 2020 elections.

“I have heard my colleagues on the other side of the aisle repeatedly claim that they stand for protections for people with pre-existing conditions and for other protections included in the Affordable Care Act,” said Representative Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “Well, now is your chance to show it.”

A federal judge in Texas invalidated all of the Affordable Care Act in December. Last week the Trump administration told the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, that it agreed with the judge’s decision. California and other states that support the Affordable Care Act have appealed the decision.

If the entire law is struck down, millions of people could lose coverage provided through the expansion of Medicaid and through private insurance subsidized by the federal government.

Republicans have voted dozens of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and many were reluctant this week to criticize the position taken in court by the Trump administration. But they said they would be ready to respond if the law falls to a legal challenge.

“If the court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, Republicans will act to protect those with pre-existing conditions,” said Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the senior Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. “We will work to make health care more affordable, guaranteeing that folks can see local doctors or go to their local hospitals, and we will preserve other important provisions, such as no lifetime limits and allowing kids to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.”

At the same time, Mr. Brady called the existing health law unconstitutional and called the resolution criticizing the Justice Department a “political stunt.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is working on legislation to hold down insurance costs and reverse what Democrats describe as the administration’s efforts to sabotage the health law.

Some, averse to an election-year fight on the issue, have said they would wait to see what Mr. Trump might propose. Some have praised him for raising the issue again.

“Back home, what we have right now is an unmitigated disaster,” said Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia. “As an elected official, it’s our responsibility to bring solutions. And what President Trump is saying is that if Congress is gridlocked right now, which it is on this topic, then he wants to start a dialogue about what it is he stands for. And I applaud that.”

But Mr. Trump pulled back his request for a health-law replacement after Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, told him no such legislation would be coming before the 2020 election.

Opinion polls show that Democrats have a political advantage on health care. Asked why voters should trust Republicans to replace the Affordable Care Act, after they failed in 2017, Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said, “I would understand their skepticism.”

The Supreme Court in 2012 upheld the health law’s requirement for people to have insurance — the individual mandate — as an exercise of Congress’s taxing power. Judge Reed O’Connor of the Federal District Court in Fort Worth ruled that the requirement became unconstitutional after Congress brought that tax penalty to zero in the tax cut signed by Mr. Trump in 2017, and he said that other provisions of the law could not survive because they were inextricably linked to the mandate.

Two Republican state attorneys general, Dave Yost of Ohio and Tim Fox of Montana, filed a legal brief this week saying there was “no basis” to strike down the whole law just because the individual mandate was unconstitutional.

They said the mandate could be severed from the health law without throwing out other provisions, like the protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The Justice Department under Mr. Trump initially said that the mandate and the protections for people with pre-existing conditions should be struck down. But last week, the department went further and said it agreed with the Texas judge who ruled the entire law was invalid.