Republicans responded to passage of the health care law by promising to build a new movement to repeal the measure. Maverick Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) led the charge against the bill and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) introduced gimmicky legislation to rescind the law. With the help of Fox News, Republicans built up the state-based constitutional challenges and reassured their base that could undo the damage. “If we can get to 218, we can force Nancy Pelosi to bring a repeal to the floor for a vote. If the Senate can do that…we have a chance to put a repeal on President Obama’s desk and make him veto that bill,” King explained. “Repeal and replace will be the slogan for the fall,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told CNN’s John King just last week.
But after fewer than 10 days of staying on message, the GOP is now moving “away from trying to repealing the bill and toward focusing on the law’s impact on businesses and jobs.” Several prominent lawmakers have since come out against the knee-jerk repeal strategy:
- Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN): “The fact is that’s not going to happen, OK?” Corker said today at Vanderbilt University. He also said last week that repeal is “probably not going to be practical.”
- Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC): “It may not be total repeal at the end of the day,” said Burr in a radio interview. “It may be a series of fixes over the course of this bill getting enacted that allow us to change and possibly bend that cost curve down.”
- Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): “The focus really should be on the misplaced priorities of the administration…Candidates are going to test the winds in their own states. … In some places, the health care bill is more popular than others”
- Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL): promised to lead the charge on repeal just two weeks ago, he now refuses to answer when reporters “asked repeatedly “if he wanted to repeal health care reform.
Moving towards jobs and the economy would make sense, particularly since most of the major provisions in the health care bill don’t kick in until 2014, while some of the immediate benefits — like eliminating life time caps and ending the common insurer practice of denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions — are too popular for conservatives to openly oppose. They’ve now settled on repealing provisions that would cut into corporate profits.
For those who have covered health care reform for the last 17 months, the Republican confusion is a bit surprising. Throughout the debate, the party maintained a unified message of opposition, arguing that the legislation represented a government take over of the health care system, no matter how conservative the bill actually became. Post reform, they’re scrambling for a message, but I suspect they’ll find one soon enough. They’ll settle on exploiting the fall out from the legislation, with the retiree drug benefit and the Medicaid payment fall off as exhibits one and two.