In the coming days, the House of Representatives will take up and overwhelmingly pass a bill to repeal the health care bill signed into law last year. The repeal bill will then languish in the Senate; Democrats simply have the numbers, and the president’s veto. Yet, this doesn’t mean that more subtle reforms to the bill are off the table — in fact, they’re likely to see implementation, presidential signature and all.
There are a number of reasons why this is the case. To begin with, Democrats appear incapable of adequately defending the bill they passed nearly a year ago. Republicans, on the other hand, have benefitted from opposition to the health care law.
A recent Rasmussen survey revealed that 60% of likely voters support repeal of health care reform. This opposition has been consistent since the day the bill passed, despite Democrats’ beliefs that the bill’s popularity would increase over time. Other than these numbers, there are a number of telling signs that Republicans might be more successful than their adversaries believe.
On Wednesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who faces an uphill re-election fight in 2012, voiced her concerns regarding the individual mandate, and suggested that there might be other ways to increase insurance pools that do not include coercion: “there’s other ways we can get people into the pool — I hope — other than a mandate, and we need to look at that.”
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), when pressed to defend the individual mandate, said, “I’m going to study it.” Nelson also faces a potentially tough re-election bid in 2012.
However, what’s more disconcerting for Democrats is the lack of rhetorical strength they’re putting behind their defense of the health care bill. During the health care debate, many accused Democrats of lacking the ability to convincingly defend and promote the bill. It appears that problem remains unsolved.
Having taken it as divinely decreed that Obamacare reduces the deficit (a notion that the public disagrees with), Democrats are claiming that repeal of the bill would add to the deficit. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) stated that repeal “allows Republicans to pretend that their campaign promise to repeal the health care bill will have no cost — their resolution simply instructs the House to ignore the trillion-dollar increase in the deficit that will result.”
Rep. Deborah Wasserman Shultz, meanwhile, recently stated, “Every minute wasted on trying to repeal health care reform fruitlessly is one less minute the Republicans will spend on job creation and turning this economy around.” This is, of course, a version of the argument that Republicans made for months while the Democrats were crafting the health care law. However, since many Americans believe the law’s provisions are limiting job growth, the electorate could view repealing health care as a means toward job creation.
When it comes to sensible reforms, such as repealing the individual mandate, eliminating the Medicaid expansion, or reducing the regulatory burden on businesses, Republicans have the upper hand. If Republicans propose these reforms by arguing that they will improve our health care system without imposing onerous costs on the American public, it could force Senate Democrats and the president into a corner.
During the past two years, Democrats have consistently labeled the Republicans as “the Party of No” for being unwilling to capitulate to Democratic programs. If Republicans can devise significant and effective reforms to the health care bill only to see them stymied by Democrats, then Obama could rightfully be labeled as unwilling to compromise while continuing to work against the wishes of the American people — an accusation that resonated during the past election cycle.
Every proposal Republicans put forward to improve the health care law will force Democrats to choose between their constituency and their base. Every time Democrats vote “no” on a piece of productive reform, Republicans can claim they’ve simply voted “yes” on Obamacare, again and again.
Ultimately, the health care issue is a win-win for Republicans. Either they utilize their public support and implement serious policy reforms to health care, or they label Democrats as uncompromising job-killers who are unwilling to roll back previous mistakes.
Mason Herron is a politics writer living in the New York City area. His work has appeared on ConservativeHomeUSA, FrumForum, as well as in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Harrisburg Patriot-News.