WASHINGTON - Brushing aside an Obama veto threat, the Republican-controlled House voted by a healthy bipartisan majority Friday to weaken a core component of "Obamacare" and permit the sale of individual health coverage that falls short of requirements in the law.
In all, 39 Democrats broke ranks and supported the legislation, a total that underscored the growing importance of the issue in the weeks since millions of cancellation notices went out to consumers covered by plans deemed inadequate under government rules.
The final vote was 261-157 as lawmakers clashed over an issue likely to be at the heart of next year's midterm elections. The measure faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where Democrats seeking re-election in 2014 are leading a move for generally similar legislation.
"For the last six weeks, the White House stood idly by ignoring the pleas of millions," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and lead sponsor of the legislation.
He is seeking to improve communication among government offices so county-level military supports are notified of veterans' return to civilian life, and can plan to contact them to explain available services upon their return home.
And Toomey is making a priority of ensuring services are readily available. Backlogs of veterans' disabilities claims, which have soared since 2005, must be addressed, he said.
"We have to get caught up with processing the backlog of VA disability claims. It's been taking too long," he said.
He has asked the VA to inform him about how it will accomplish its strategic goal to reduce the backlog. He also signed a letter to President Barack Obama asking for his direct personal involvement in resolving the issue.
Representatives of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve presented Toomey with a framed statement of support. Toomey reciprocated gratitude, speaking to each of the more than 20 veterans gathered.
In addition to his comments to the veterans, Toomey spoke with reporters about Obama's Friday announcement regarding the Affordable Care Act.
Contrary to promises that Americans who are content to keep their health care plans would not lose them because of the Affordable Care Act, millions of people stand to lose their insurance plans because they do not meet the specifications of the law.
But Obama announced Friday that people would be able to keep their insurance plans for one more year.
"I'm not convinced it's possible," Toomey said of Obama's announcement. "It's not certain that those plans can exist anymore. ... You can't fix this law. You have to repeal it entirely."
He supports other ways of decreasing the cost of health care: by forcing insurance companies to compete for customers' business across state lines, by offering individuals tax deductions like employers currently receive for purchasing health insurance, and by "squeezing out unnecessary costs" of medical exam procedures.
"There are a whole series of individual, discrete reforms that can be taken," he said.