Here’s the long-term Republican strategy for the repealing the health care law in a nutshell: Make a splash with a symbolic vote to repeal the whole thing, and then work to dismantle it in smaller, more digestible pieces.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell kicked off the process in the upper chamber by forcing a Senate vote to repeal the law by introducing it as an amendment to a bill to fund the Federal Aviation Association. All 47 Republicans voted for the amendment, but with no Democrats willing to cross party lines, it unsurprisingly fell short of the 60 votes needed to be included in the final language of the bill.
The vote in the Senate is the start of what Republicans promise to be a “non-stop” onslaught against the law, a battle that few expect to be resolved in the legislature for years.
“Today’s vote marks the beginning of a non-stop campaign to dismantle this job-killer piece-by-piece,” a senior GOP aide told The Daily Caller.
Now that the Senate has taken a vote on repeal, Republicans will introduce a flurry of new bills to further weigh it down.
Republican Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina unveiled a bill Tuesday that would allow states to opt out of the mandate in the health-care law that requires Americans to buy medical insurance, touting it a way to force the law to crumble without an outright repeal measure.
The bill would allow state legislatures, with the approval from the governor, to opt out of the provision completely. Sens. Graham and Barrasso said they are fully aware that if enough states opted out, most of the bill would come crashing down.
“We’re opening up a third front in the challenges to the Obama health-care law,” Graham said Tuesday. “If you took half the states out of the individual mandate requirement, this bill falls. Quite frankly, that is the goal.”
Republicans see the actions like these as momentum builders for a party that is gearing up to invest a lot of political capital on the premise that Americans will continue to care about health-care reform even during harsh economic times. The Republican-controlled House passed a full repeal bill in January.
Taking repeal votes also puts pressure on Democrats, forcing moderates in the party to publicly affirm their support of the law or distance themselves from it.
“It’s not every day that you can get a second chance on a big decision after you know all the facts,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. “This is that second chance.”
The Republican strategy, however, is not without risk. If Republicans come across as focusing too much on health-care repeal through a never-ending series of Quixotic vote campaigns without convincing Americans that they are focused on jobs, the effort could backfire. That’s why it’s rare to hear a Republican use the phrase “health-care law” without pre-empting it with the words “job-crushing” or a something similar.
Democrats spent more than a year battling to pass the health-care bill in 2009-2010 while Republicans criticized them for lacking focus on job creation. Now Democrats are hitting back at them for doing the same.
“I’m open to making improvements, but this is just a political stunt,” said New York Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gilibrand via her Twitter feed the day of the vote. “[Republicans] should shift focus to job creation.”
“I think the American people want us to focus on jobs,” said Ohio Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown. “Not re-litigate, re-debate this health care issue.”
Somewhere amid the partisan proposals, the House and Senate will negotiate changes to the law that both parties find palatable.
The Senate voted Wednesday to eliminate a mandate in the law that requires businesses to file a 1099 tax form with the IRS any time it does more than $600 worth of business with another company.
Through all of this, both parties will keep a keen eye on the courts for further encouragement. A federal judge in Florida found the law unconstitutional this week, and the ruling is expected to be appealed up to the Supreme Court, which could hear the case within the next year.