If Republicans really do repeal the president’s health care law, they’ll do it in 2013 with control of the presidency and the Senate.
“We passed wholesale repeal in the House. We have no delusion it’s going to pass the Senate or the president,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, chairman of the health subcommittee in the Energy and Commerce Committee in an interview Wednesday.
“If, in 2012, the electorate continues what they did in the last election and we get control of the House and Senate and even the presidency, then in one good long weekend we could undo the damage,” Pitts said.
“This has got to be the key issue in the 2012 presidential campaign,” said Grace Marie-Turner, co-author of “Why Obamacare is Wrong for America” and a key player in the push by conservative outside groups to bolster Hill Republicans on repeal, “there’s no way it’s gonna pass the Senate now or that the President would sign it.”
The issue is important because even if the Supreme Court rules the “individual mandate” in the law, which imposes a fine on those who do not purchase health insurance, is unconstitutional, it’s far less likely the high court will deem the entire law void, as a federal judge did in Florida.
Over this Congress, the challenge for Republicans is to keep a steady drumbeat about the law that keeps the conservative base riled up while continuing to push the law’s poll numbers down.
“Until , we’ve got to pursue partial repeal, explain, educate the public as to the real impact as to the cost and many other compliance provisions,” Pitts said.
“Partial repeal” includes stand-alone bills that remove some of the least popular parts of Obamacare, like a burdensome tax reporting requirement on small businesses that both the House and Senate recently voted to remove from the law.
Publicly, GOP leaders are committed to dismantling as much of the law as they can.
“If the Senate won’t join us in passing a bill repealing Obamacare all at once, we’ll work to repeal it step-by-step,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a recent Internet video release.
However, according to three sources close to the issue, a private debate is raging about whether this piecemeal approach could actually hurt the momentum for full repeal by improving the bill and, eventually, it’s popularity.
“There’s some debate on the House side about that,” said Turner, “they don’t want to vote for anything that quote unquote fixes it.”
Pitts said “we’re not going to worry about that” and Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said it won’t be a concern “given the fundamental flaws in the law.”
But insiders say that, in particular, adding flexibility on burdensome Medicare eligibility requirements on states could ameliorate opposition to the law by the nation’s governors, a key – and politically powerful – constituency pushing repeal.
Votes that make Senate Democrats swallow hard before voting no, or legislation that can pass the Senate but will face a veto from Obama, are in some senses the most useful politically for Republicans.
As Republicans navigate the tough strategic decisions on piecemeal repeal of the legislation, they plan to continue highlighting the law’s flaws with big publicity pushes and oversight hearings that make life tough for the bureaucrats racing to implement the law in the Obama administration.
Just today, on the first anniversary of the law’s enactment, has seen a massive, coordinated push to blast the law, including a joint op-ed by Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Alongside the criticisms will come a series of proposals by Republicans rather than one, large, complicated bill, Pitts said.
The Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee are working on those proposals right now.
“We have a whole series of replacement ideas. One is interstate competition, being able to purchase health insurance across state lines, which you cannot do now. Another is pooling across state lines. Another is pooling within a state. Another is portability, so you’re on your own health insurance plan and you can take it with you from one job to another, from one state to another,” Pitts said.
“Another is medical malpractice reform that will save about $125 billion per year according to the experts. Another is tax treatment for individuals so that they get the same kind of deductions and tax incentives that companies have for providing health insurance for their employees. There are other things we can do like deal with health savings accounts and other things.”
Eventually, the Republican presidential nominee could take the proposals and make them his or her own, campaigning not only to repeal Obamacare, but to put new reforms in their place.