Following an initially fractured response to the passage of President Obama’s health bill, the GOP is moving its message away from trying to repealing the bill and toward focusing on the law’s impact on businesses and jobs.
The party has been helped by new polls showing continued public disapproval of the law, and by a deluge of announcements from major U.S. corporations about its financial cost.
Announcements by several large corporations including AT&T and Caterpillar within days of the bill’s passage into law were “fortuitous,” said Rob Collins, executive director of the American Action Network, a fledgling conservative political advocacy organization.
“It took us a couple days to recover from the shock of the bill passing,” said Collins, who until February was chief of staff to House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.
Collins said many Republicans were very confident that the health bill would not pass out of the House, based largely on the opposition from pro-life Democrats such as Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who was persuaded to support the bill the day of the vote by an executive order issued by President Obama.
After the bill passed by a vote of 219-to-212, many Republicans were unprepared for the Democratic messaging, which immediately sought to put them on the defensive for wanting to repeal benefits for Americans in the bill.
“They are now are in the unfortunate position of looking voters in the eye and pledging to take away their health care, reinstate the donut hole for seniors, and restore pre-existing conditions for insurance companies,” said Eric Schultz, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which began formulating this message back in December.
The immediate Republican response did not help them: some said repeal the bill and start over, while others said they wanted to repeal parts of the bill and replace them with better solutions.
Now, however, “we are seeing a shift” in Republican message, Collins said.
Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, whose chairman – Sen. John Cornyn of Texas – has had to clarify whether he wanted to repeal the full bill or just parts of it, indicated that the GOP would be talking more about the economic impact of the bill from now on.
“The number one issue on the minds of most Americans is jobs and the economy, with health care part of that larger narrative,” Walsh said.
“The fundamental political problem facing Democrats, however, is that they’re unable to explain to voters how passing a trillion dollar health-care bill either creates jobs, other than for the IRS, or lowers health-care costs for families. Arguably, the initial indicators are that this legislation is making America’s economic situation even worse.”
Even before the House passed the health bill on March 24, Caterpillar Inc. announced that the legislation would cost the company $100 million in added expenses in the first year alone.
A number of other corporations followed suit after the bill passed, many of them protesting a specific provision that reduces tax exemptions for companies that provide drug benefits for retirees.
AT&T announced on Friday that the cost to them of this provision would be $1 billion. The telecom giant is projected to bring in $124 billion in revenues this year, though its profits will be less than that.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairmen Henry Waxman, California Democrat, has expressed skepticism about the corporations announcements, summoning them to testify April 21 about their complaints.
But Republicans have begun to pounce on the announcements, using them with increasing frequency to build a case that the health bill is bad for the economy.
“The president’s new health care law is already hurting our economy,” read a release from the office of House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican.
The release cited “a long list of employers including AT&T, AK Steel, 3M, Caterpillar, Deere and Valero Energy that have felt an immediate squeeze because of ObamaCare’s job-killing tax increases and health-care cost hikes.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tuesday publicly tacked away from the repeal movement.
“While some discuss repeal, the U.S. Chamber believes a more effective approach is to work through all available and appropriate avenues — regulatory, legislative, legal and political —to fix the bill’s flaws and minimize its harmful impacts,” said Tom Donohue, the chamber’s president and chief executive, in an opinion piece distributed to reporters.
Though Obama and Democrats gained some bounce in public opinion polls after passing health care, Republicans have taken heart in numbers over the last few days.
Democrats heralded the results of a USA Today/Gallup poll immediately after the bill’s passage that showed 49 percent approval and 40 percent disapproval. Those numbers represent an outlier, and another USA Today/Gallup poll released this week showed large numbers of Americans have concerns about the bill’s costs and its impact on quality of health care.
About 65 percent of those polled said the new law will expand the government’s role in health care too far, another 64 percent said it will cost too much, and 58 percent said it won’t do enough to curb rising costs.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released over the weekend showed 50 percent opposition to the health-care plan, and 46 percent support.
Of the 50 percent opposed, 86 percent said they supported undoing the president’s changes, with only 9 percent opposing that route.
Conn Carroll, assistant director of strategic communications at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said, “Repeal is still the goal.”
“I just think conservatives are being honest about the fact that since Obama isn’t going to sign a law that repeals his signature accomplishment, that repeal is just not going to happen till at least 2013,” Carroll said.
“So yes, conservatives are going to be highlighting all of the costs to business and the thousands of lost jobs Obamacare will cause. And, yes, public opinion will only continue to sour on this bill. But the goal is still the same: repeal.”
Democrats will hold them to it, said Hari Sevugan, Democratic National Committee spokesman.
“Either you’re for repeal or you’re not. Republicans have made it clear that they are,” Sevugan said. “That means they now not only support the idea of handing our health-care system back to insurance companies, but want to impose the largest health-care tax hike on middle-class families and small businesses in history.”
“We’re sure that idea isn’t going to be popular at the polls.”