Reinvigorated Democrats have flustered Republicans on their heels

Jon Ward Contributor
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The health-care bill that hung around Democrats’ necks for the last several months – right up to the final vote Sunday when some vulnerable congressmen were convinced to support it – has suddenly become a weapon.

If politics were war, Republicans would have just been lured from their walled city to chase a force they thought was retreating, only to find Democrats suddenly turning and attacking them head-on.

Even before the bill passed, President Obama had begun pounding the message that the new legislation would immediately benefit many Americans, and cast Republicans who opposed the bill as on the side of greedy insurers.

Hours after the bill passed, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs set the talking points: “[I]f people want to campaign on taking tax cuts away from small businesses, taking assistance away from seniors getting prescription drugs, and want to take away a mother knowing that their child can’t be discriminated against by an insurance company … we’ll have a robust campaign on that,” he said at the Monday briefing.

Democrats have taken up that banner and run with it. Obama’s signing of the landmark legislation Tuesday at the White House only added to Democrats’ surprising momentum.

Gibbs on Tuesday trumpeted a Gallup/USA Today poll that showed 49 percent approval and 40 percent disapproval* of the health-care law.

“This will give the nattering nabobs of negativity something to chew on,” Gibbs – channeling former Maryland Governor and Vice President Spiro Agnew – said on his Twitter feed, linking to the poll results.

Although the health bill remains unpopular in a national average of polls by Pollster.com, and Democrats remain likely to suffer substantial losses in elections this fall, Republicans have struggled to fine-tune their message since Sunday in the face of their reinvigorated opponents.

“Repeal and replace will be the slogan for the fall,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, on CNN late Tuesday. “Hopefully we’ll be able to repeal the most egregious parts of this and replace them with things that we could have done on a bipartisan basis much earlier this year.”

But Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, introduced legislation Tuesday to repeal the whole thing, and spoke only of starting from scratch.

“We must repeal this bill and start over,” DeMint said in a statement sent to reporters announcing his legislation, which is co-sponsored by a dozen other Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

House Republicans were similarly discombobulated. GOP leaders huddled at the Capitol Tuesday morning to talk strategy. Reporters were told that House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, would speak afterward.

Boehner, however, went straight to a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leaving two junior members of the leadership to speak with a handful of reporters.

“We will work in every way to repeal this legislation and start over,” said House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, of Indiana.

Moments later, however, Pence said the House GOP was in favor of “repealing and replacing Obamacare with an approach that gives Americans more choices instead of more government.”

“There are small elements of the legislation that’s moving forward that Republicans have always supported,” he said.

House Republican leadership aides stressed that their message was one of “repeal and replace,” rather than simply repeal. They mentioned the roughly $500 billion in Medicare cuts in the president’s bill, as well as a new Medicare payroll tax on high-income earners, as two ideas they would like to get rid of. They did not say with what they would replace it.

As in the Senate, there are some House Republicans – including Rep. Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota, and Rep. Steve King, of Iowa – who are already pursuing a flat-out repeal of the president’s health bill.

Also Tuesday, 13 state attorney generals filed a suit against the federal government, in the U.S. District Court of Florida, saying the requirement that every American purchase insurance or pay a fine is unconstitutional.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, one of those who joined the suit, said he expects it to reach the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as a year from now.

Pence, at the morning press conference, said Republicans encouraged the move.

*The article originally misstated that there was 40 percent approval.