WASHINGTON — A Republican drive to repeal the year-old health care law ended in party-line defeat in the Senate on Wednesday, leaving the Supreme Court to render a final, unpredictable verdict on an issue steeped in political and constitutional controversy.
The vote was 47-51. Florida's Bill Nelson, a Democrat, voted against repeal, and Republican Marco Rubio voted for it.
Moments earlier, the Senate agreed to make one relatively minor change in the law, voting to strip out a paperwork requirement for businesses.
President Barack Obama, who has vowed to veto any total repeal of his signature legislative accomplishment, has said he would accept the change. It does not directly affect health care.
Republicans conceded in advance that their attempt at total repeal would fall short, but they accomplished an objective of forcing rank and file Democrats to take a position on an issue that reverberated in the 2010 campaign and may play a role in 2012.
Democrats worked to minimize any political repercussions, a concern for a party already acutely aware it must defend 23 seats — and its shrunken Senate majority — in the 2012 elections.
They also countered with the proposed repeal of the law's requirement that businesses, charities and state and local governments file income tax forms every time they purchase $600 or more in goods.
It was approved 81-17, after Republicans said it had originally been their idea.
Across the street from the Capitol, Democrats convened a Judiciary Committee hearing to solicit testimony on the constitutionality of the law they passed and Obama signed months ago.
Two federal judges have ruled it is unconstitutional, partially or in its entirety, citing a requirement for individuals to purchase coverage and pay a penalty in taxes if they fail to do so. Two other judges have upheld the law. The controversy has yet to reach the Supreme Court, but it is widely expected to, and Nelson announced he would file legislation urging the justices to act quickly.