The House was ready on Tuesday to kill a federal panel that is supposed to find ways to curb Medicare spending, as Republicans ignored a veto threat and readied their latest blow at President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul.
Members of the Independent Payment Advisory Board have never been appointed, and the panel has never recommended savings from Medicare, the $600-billion-a-year healthcare program for the elderly.
But Republicans have long targeted the board, saying it would ration care and has too much power. When the healthcare law began working its way through Congress in 2009, defeated GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said the law would create "death panels" that could decide the care seniors would receive.
Democrats argue that the statute specifically forbids the board from rationing care, increasing recipients' premiums or reducing their coverage. That means its recommendations would fall largely on providers, such as doctors and nursing homes.
The White House has threatened to veto the bill, saying repeal would eliminate a way to "help reduce the rate of Medicare growth responsibly."
The Senate has yet to consider similar legislation.
Some congressional Democrats agree that the board is too powerful, since its recommended savings automatically take effect unless Congress votes to change or block them.
But much Democratic support for repealing the board evaporated when Republicans decided to pay the $7 billion, 10-year cost of eliminating it by cutting $8 billion from the healthcare law's prevention and public health fund, which the GOP says wastes money.
Most Democrats consider the Republican repeal effort an attempt to weaken the healthcare law. They call the prevention program a valuable part of that law.
The board can only propose savings when the rate of Medicare spending growth hits specified levels that haven't been reached — and are not expected to be reached — for years.
Last week, the House voted to repeal another piece of the healthcare law taxing many medical devices.