While some Republicans are rallying behind a “repeal and replace” strategy, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, “told attendees at a Health Affairs Media Breakfast that while repeal of the new law is unlikely; shutting down funding to implement it could be just as effective”:
BURGESS: By far the most succinct trajectory to stop the problems that I see coming forward with this bill would be in the Congressional activity of holding the purse strings and the funding of the activities, particularly the fundings [sic] related to the department of Health and Human Services and regarding implementation….And therein is an opportunity for those of us who think that this was a bad product and goes way too far in a direction where the country was not ready to go, and that would be blocking the funding for implementation. That in and of itself, obviously, would provoke some sort of crisis and showdown between Congress and the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Burgess’ strategy was most recently floated by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who shut down the government in 1995. Speaking at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference this past April, Gingrich outlined a two-tiered strategy for the GOP if they win elections in 2010 and 2012: 1) Refuse to fund any of Democrats’ “radical efforts” if Republicans win control of Congress in November, and 2) Repeal “every radical bill passed by the [Democratic] machine” if Republicans win Congress and the presidency in 2012.
The defund strategy is a short term solution designed to get around Obama’s expected veto of repeal legislation and it’s been endorsed by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). “You just gotta take appropriated funds to actually come through the process to fund the hiring of new employees, to create these new bureaucracies. I can’t imagine a Republican Congress is going to give this President the money to begin this process,” Boehner told Fox News in March. “I am confident we will get majorities in both houses in the fall. And that means the power of the purse…If we cut off the money, it doesn’t take an override to a veto,” McCain also suggested. Whether Republicans will actually have enough votes to cut funding for such popular reforms as premium subsidies, however, remains to be seen.
BURGESS: You know I voted against the bill 3 months ago, and you might be wondering if over the intervening 3 months there’s been some revelation or I’ve realized where, ‘hey, this bill is really a good product after all.’ But the answer to that question succinctly is, “No, I have not.” The bill is still bad, it is still badly flawed. You guys were there at its inception on Christmas Eve when the Senate was all trying to get out of town ahead of a snowstorm and a very bad product was passed. After an election in Massachusetts, the Senate said, “we can’t do any better than this and the House will just have to pass our product.” No one in their right mind would have bet that the House would do that, but the House did, and then the President signed it, and now it’s the law of the land. And there we are having to deal with it.
But one of the questions that comes up a lot is: “is there any way to roll back the clock? Is there any way to get out from under this thing and do what people were really asking us to do all of last year?” And I don’t know the answer to that. I know my Attorney General in the state of Texas has joined with other Attorney Generals across the country and has filed suit to block implementation of this bill. They may be successful, I don’t know, obviously I cannot put, I don’t want to put all of the eggs in that particular bill. But at the same time, stranger things have happened. And the courts could find that, at some point, that this bill does violate or goes too far with its reach and grab of federal power.
What about repeal of the bill? Sure, I’d be for that. I didn’t like it 3 months ago. I told you I found nothing in the intervening 3 months to show me that I was wrong in that dislike for the bill. If I were king and I could rip it out root-and-branch and start over, again, doing the things that people asked us to do for the last 18 months, sure, I would do that in a heartbeat. That ain’t gonna happen in the month of July, it’s not gonna happen in the month of September. We do have a big election coming up in the fall. Perhaps the election will be seen as a referendum on the bill that was passed in March. I don’t know. You all will be the ones who will write about that and be the arbiters of that. But it will be a dramatic election, one way or the other. And if there were a dramatic power shift, could the bill be repealed? Well, we all know that it’s an off year election and it doesn’t change the occupant of the White House in November, so even a repeal bill would stand little chance at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. So therein is a problem.
By far the most succinct trajectory to stop the problems that I see coming forward with this bill would be in the Congressional activity of holding the purse strings and the funding of the activities, particularly the fundings [sic] related to the department of Health and Human Services and regarding implementation. We’re all familiar with the CBO report from May that said, “by the way, the implementation costs for this bill are probably gonna be $10 billion higher than we originally projected.” And I think even that is an underestimate when you just look at the sheer size and scope of the Federal regulations that have to be written as a consequence of the language in this bill. And therein is an opportunity for those of us who think that this was a bad product and goes way too far in a direction where the country was not ready to go, and that would be blocking the funding for implementation. That in and of itself, obviously, would provoke some sort of crisis and showdown between Congress and the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. It also presupposes the shift in power. It is unlikely that if the Democrats continue to hold the gavel in January, that that funding restriction would be applied. So, when I point out that the off year election in November will likely be a referendum on this bill, I rather suspect you’re going to hear a lot of that sort of discussion in the weeks and months leading up to that election day, so people will be aware of a pretty clear choice that they have: continue to go forward unfettered or to perhaps put some restrictions around how we roll this bill out.