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story.lead_photo.caption House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California speaks Friday at a news conference in Washington.
(AP/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON -- Democrats pushed a package expanding Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act coverage through the House on Monday, a measure that's unlikely to advance but spotlights how the coronavirus pandemic and President Donald Trump's efforts to remove that law have fortified health care's potency as a 2020 campaign issue.

While the legislation had no chance to pass in the Republican-led Senate and faced a White House veto threat for good measure, Democrats plunged ahead anyway. It joins a pile of bills they've compiled that highlight their priorities on health care, jobs, ethics and voting rights, issues they intend to wield in this year's presidential and congressional elections.

The bill cleared the House by a mostly party-line, 234-179 vote over solid GOP opposition. Republican lawmakers, who've never relented since unanimously opposing former President Barack Obama's 2010 statue, called the measure a blow to the nation's health care system during a pandemic and a political stunt.

"This bill attempts to exploit the coronavirus pandemic to resuscitate tired, partisan proposals," the White House wrote in its statement. It said provisions curbing prescription drug costs would cut pharmaceutical company revenues and "undermine the American innovation the entire globe is depending on" to develop vaccines and treatments.

Republican lawmakers' votes against the House measure seemed certain to pop up in campaign spots this fall. In a taste of those ads, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday's vote gave lawmakers a choice between strengthening health care protections or being "complicit" in Trump's effort to dismantle it.

"Make no mistake," said Pelosi. "A vote against this bill is a vote to weaken Americans' health and financial security during a pandemic."

Democrats used Trump's and the GOP's failed 2017 efforts to erase the law as their chief issue in the 2018 elections, helping them capture House control by gaining 40 seats.

They've talked ever since about reprising that theme in this year's campaigns by focusing on curbing drug and health care costs and saying Republicans want to dismantle the law's patient protections. Republicans have denied that that is their goal.

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Last week, the White House made a move that Democrats say provides them with fresh ammunition and that even some Republicans consider a political blunder.

It filed papers with the Supreme Court backing Republican-run states' drive to have the entire law declared unconstitutional. The increasingly popular statute has expanded coverage to 20 million Americans, and required insurers to cover patients with preexisting conditions and include children up to age 26 under their parent's policies.

Debate also came as the number of cases of covid-19, the disease that coronavirus causes, has begun soaring anew in more than half the states, including many that relaxed restrictions on activities aimed at preventing the illness' spread. The United States reported 38,800 newly confirmed coronavirus infections Monday, boosting the total over 2.5 million. More than 125,000 Americans have died, the highest figure in the world.

The House bill would expand tax credits for lower-earning Americans for paying insurance premiums, let more people qualify for subsidies and cap the portion of income some consumers would pay for coverage. It would let the government negotiate with pharmaceutical makers over drug prices, and block low-cost plans the Trump administration has permitted that don't require coverage of people with preexisting conditions.

The legislation would also cut federal payments to states that don't expand Medicaid to cover more low-income people, as the ACA allows. Around a dozen states, mostly run by Republicans, have opted not to do so.

The Democratic bill lacks a keystone of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's health care plan: creating a government-run public option that people could join. Critics have said such a proposal could force people to abandon job-provided policies they like.

Democrats criticized Republicans for repeatedly claiming that after repealing the ACA they would pass legislation protecting patients, though they've never presented a viable replacement package.

"It's been four years since our colleagues who say they're going to protect people have done anything," said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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