Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) appeared on Fox News today to warn Democrats that if they manage to pass a health care bill, “we’ll spend the rest of the year in the campaign to try to repeal it.” Saying he has “never seen” an electoral effort to repeal unpopular legislation, Alexander argued that “the American people don’t want the bill’:
ALEXANDER: If the Democrats push this through, an unpopular health care bill, at a time when the real issues are jobs, terrorism, and debt, the health care bill is going to define every Democratic candidate for every public office in November and Republicans are going to try to elect a majority who’ll come in here and try to provide a check and a balance to more taxes and more spending.
Given the growing momentum for passing health care reform, Republicans are renewing their threat to campaign in future elections on a platform of repealing health reform. Before the Massachusetts election, when passage of health care reform seemed almost inevitable, Newt Gingrich predicted that “every Republican running in ‘10 and again in ‘12 will run on an absolute pledge to repeal this bill” and several GOP candidates had begun questioning the constitutionality of the pending legislation. Yesterday on Meet the Press, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) predicted that “[i]f Speaker Pelosi rams through this bill through the House using the reconciliation process, they will lose their majority in Congress in November.”
Moreover, legislatures in approximately 30 states — organized by the American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC], a “business-friendly conservative group that coordinates activity among statehouses — have also introduced initiatives to ratify constitutional amendments that would repeal all or parts of the pending health care reform legislation. “Earlier this month Tennessee enacted legislation that would require its attorney general to defend people who refuse insurance, and Virginia, pending the governor’s expected signature, may soon be the first state to tell residents they would not need to comply.”
The effort may be well organized, but it’s not very effective. If Congress passes reform legislation, federal law would override state rules and most constitutional scholars believe that state-based Tenther arguments are unlikely to prevail in court. The goal of the repeal movement is to intimidate Democrats into inaction and raise money. Alexander and the Republicans are pretending that if Democrats abandon their pursuit of comprehensive legislation, they won’t use their first vote against them. It’s a specious argument to be sure, and one that will get Democrats in double trouble. They’ll be attacked for voting for an unpopular bill and portrayed as weak for abandoning an effort they fervently championed. Then again, if Democrats are willing to their campaign advice from Republicans, maybe they shouldn’t be in Congress in the first place.