On January 5, Representatives Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Steve King (R-IA) introduced H.R. 141 to repeal Obamacare. A vote on the bill, scheduled for this week, has been postponed because of the shootings of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others in Arizona. When it does come up in the House, it will pass; but even if it also passed in the Senate, the White House has said that President Obama will veto it. The question then becomes, what can Republicans in Congress do to thwart the implementation of Obamacare while they work to elect a Republican president and a Republican Senate in 2012 so they can repeal it in 2013?
Many Republican strategists, like Dick Morris, argue that House Republicans should prohibit the use of funds for the most egregious provisions of Obamacare by attaching amendments to must-have legislation for President Obama. They could, for example, begin by prohibiting the IRS from using funds to hire the 16,500 agents needed to enforce the mandatory insurance provisions of Obamacare. They could even include criminal penalties.
This, Morris argues, would force a showdown with the president like the one over the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. President Obama, Morris believes, would blink again and sign the legislation. Others argue, however, that this strategy is rife with risk for Republicans. President Obama could veto the bill, use the opportunity to change the subject from Obamacare to the important legislation Republicans were holding hostage, such as the extension of the national debt limit, and put Republicans in a negative light and on the defensive.
Even if President Obama signed the bill, he could issue a signing statement that its provision prohibiting the use of funds for implementation of existing law was an encroachment on executive branch power. And does anyone believe that Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department would take action against IRS officials who went ahead and used IRS funds to hire the new agents?
We have only to look at the history of the Boland Amendment, the name given to three legislative amendments between 1982 and 1984 intended to limit U.S. government assistance to the Contras in Nicaragua, to understand how messy this process can be. Passing it required watering it down. In the end, it didn’t prevent U.S. assistance to the Contras in the form of funds obtained by selling arms to Iran in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon. Nor did the U.S. government succeed in prosecuting LTC (USMC Ret.) Oliver North when he violated it. It’s highly unlikely that an amendment restricting the use of funds to implement Obamacare would have the intended effect.
A more effective strategy for House Republicans on Obamacare would be to pass amendments to must-have legislation that enact new, free-market-based healthcare reforms that Americans would welcome.
House Republicans, indeed, should expeditiously pass HR 141 to repeal Obamacare. They owe it to the voters that gave them control of the House and six additional seats in the Senate, largely because of opposition to Obamacare.
The very next piece of healthcare-related legislation the House should pass is comprehensive tort reform. Frivolous malpractice lawsuits and excessive damage awards by juries force doctors to order unnecessary and duplicative tests and drive up malpractice insurance and healthcare costs. Comprehensive tort reform would contribute greatly to reducing those costs and would be welcomed by the overwhelming majority of Americans.
Comprehensive tort reform was conspicuously left out of Obamacare. Trial lawyers, major contributors to the Democratic Party, have been the principal obstacle to it. Now, with a Republican House and vulnerable Senate Democrats up for election in 2012, it has a good chance of making it through the Senate. Obama would be hard-pressed to veto it.
House Republicans should follow tort reform with an amendment to allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines. Currently, employers and employees must choose from a limited number of healthcare insurance plans offered on a state-by-state basis that include coverage for benefits most Americans will never need that drive up policy prices. Obamacare further reduces healthcare insurance choices.
Next would be an amendment establishing insurance pools for low-cost catastrophic health insurance for young people who can’t afford comprehensive plans.
With one amendment after another, Republicans could demonstrate to Americans that they are determined to repeal Obamacare when they can but, in the meantime, here are the healthcare reforms they will replace it with. It doesn’t matter that these bills would be in conflict with Obamacare or that they might never make it out of the Senate or be signed into law by President Obama. The act of passing them in the House alone would send a clear and important message to American voters.
None of this precludes attempting to defund Obamacare. The two strategies are not mutually exclusive. But if Republicans want to hold on to their majority in the House and win the Senate and the White House in 2012 so they can repeal Obamacare and put healthcare reform on the right track, they must pursue a positive, not a negative strategy. They can do that by passing amendments to legislation, if only in the House, that would demonstrate what Republicans will replace Obamacare with before they can successfully repeal it.
Ed Ross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of EWRoss International LLC, a company that provides global consulting services to clients in the international defense marketplace. He publishes commentary at EWRoss.com.