WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Friday vetoed legislation to repeal his health care law, saying the measure "would reverse the significant progress we have made in improving health care in America."
The veto was expected. But Republicans claimed victory with the vote, arguing that they met two goals by finally passing a repeal bill: keeping a promise to voters in an election year, and showing that they are capable of repealing the law if a Republican wins November's presidential election.
The issue is expected to be a factor in the campaign with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton defending it against Republicans who argue the measure doesn't work.
Republican lawmakers have pushed many repeal measures since 2010, when Obama signed the health care, his signature domestic achievement, into law. This was the first of those bills to clear Congress and reach his desk.
In his veto message to Congress, Obama disagreed with critics of the measure. The president said the Affordable Care Act, widely referred to as "Obamacare," includes fairer rules and stronger consumer protections "that have made health care coverage more affordable, more attainable and more patient-centered. And it is working."
The Senate passed the measure last year under special rules that protected it from Democratic delaying tactics and the House passed it this week.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, predicted it will be "a matter of time" before the law is finally overturned.
"We have now shown that there is a clear path to repealing Obamacare without 60 votes in the Senate," Ryan said. "So, next year, if we're sending this bill to a Republican president, it will get signed into law. Obamacare will be gone. ... It's just a matter of time."
For maximum visibility, Republican leaders made the legislation their first major vote of 2016. Although they don't have the votes to override Obama's veto, they scheduled an override vote for Jan. 26.
"We will hold a vote to override this veto, taking this process all the way to the end under the Constitution," Ryan said.
The bill would dismantle the health law's key pillars, including requirements that most people obtain coverage and that larger employers offer it to workers.
More than 16 million people have gained health coverage since the law was enacted, according to government figures. They could risk losing it under the Republican approach.
Obama said reliable health care coverage would no longer be a right for everyone under the bill, but would become "a privilege for a few." He admonished lawmakers for wasting time "refighting old political battles" and said they should instead be working on policies to grow the economy, help middle-class families and create jobs.
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