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Eyeing 2014, GOP Pushes ObamaCare Repeal

Eyeing 2014, GOP Pushes ObamaCare Repeal

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - May 13, 2013

"Groundhog Day" comes to the House of Representatives this week, as Republicans plan to vote on repealing Obamacare. Again.

It's not that GOP leaders believe the 37th time -- literally -- is the charm. They know that repeal legislation will never make it through the Senate, let alone the president, and that the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act last June. In fact, House Speaker John Boehner is on record as acknowledging that the vote is primarily cathartic. He and Majority Leader Eric Cantor apparently believe that bringing a repeal vote to the floor Wednesday is worthwhile because it puts their members’ antipathy for the law -- and their opponents’ support of it -- on the record ahead of the 2014 midterms.

The GOP is pulling out its playbook from 2010, when ties to Nancy Pelosi and support for the recently passed health care law helped send incumbent Democrats packing and put John Boehner in charge of the House.

Republican attempts to chain the ACA vote around the ankles of their opponents, especially President Obama, proved futile this past November, however. Obama still occupies the White House and there are more Democrats in the 113th Congress than the previous one. But by 2014, the law will have been fully implemented and Republicans believe voters won’t like what they see.

“We’ve got 70 new members who have not had the opportunity to vote on the president’s health care law. Frankly, they’ve been asking for an opportunity to vote on it, and we’re going to give it to them,” Boehner explained to reporters.

In other words, it’s a messaging vote. But with several other concerns hanging in the balance -- an ongoing fiscal crisis, another debt-ceiling deadline, tax reform -- is the speaker wasting his time on symbolism?

“Obamacare is going to drive up the cost of health insurance and is going to make it harder for small businesses to hire workers. I believe that at the core of who I am,” Boehner said. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we don’t wreck the best health care system the world has ever known.”

This was a departure for the Ohio lawmaker, who declared in a post-election interview that Obamacare is the law of the land. Editorialists figured attempts to repeal it were over. Boehner insisted to reporters Thursday that his position is the same: It is a fact that the health care bill is law, he said, and “I want to repeal the law of the land. … I don’t believe there is a way to fix this to make it acceptable to the American people.”

President Obama reminded Americans Friday at an appearance to promote his signature achievement that “the law is here to stay.”

Polling shows it to be unpopular. An April Quinnipiac survey found voters disapprove of the ACA, 46 percent to 41 percent. By a 37 percent to 15 percent margin, respondents say it would hurt them more than help them personally, while 41 percent say the law wouldn’t affect them. But when it comes to allowing more people in their state to qualify for Medicaid, 48 percent to 41 percent believe expansion is a good idea. And other surveys find a majority of Latino and young voters, key Democratic constituencies, favor Obamacare.

Republicans are also pointing to prominent Democrats who have criticized the law. Sen. Max Baucus, who as Finance Committee chairman guided the health care bill to passage in his chamber, recently described its coming implementation as a “train wreck.” Lawmakers urging repeal are now spotlighting that comment.

The repeal vote provides “a good opportunity to be on offense when it comes to talking about health care,” Andrea Bozek, spokeswoman for the House GOP’s campaign arm, told RCP.

But Republicans campaigned on a “repeal and replace” mantra, and they haven’t yet figured out the replacement part.

Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell hope to undermine the law in whatever ways they can. Last week, they wrote a letter to the president refusing to nominate appointees to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, an entity set up by the health care law to search for Medicare cost savings.

In April, Cantor led an effort to soften the image of a conference intent on gutting the law that will provide insurance access to millions without it. He introduced the Helping Sick Americans Now Act, which would help people with pre-existing conditions gain access to coverage, but many conservatives considered it an expansion of Obamacare.

“I don’t like seeing one big-government Democrat program replaced by a Republican big-government program,” Rep. Trey Radel, a freshman from Florida, said of the proposal. Cantor pulled it from the floor but pledged to bring it up again later. Last week, he tweeted that he would move a full repeal vote to the floor.

A vote on the repeal measure, sponsored by Rep. Michele Bachmann, is scheduled for Thursday. Lawmakers can return to their districts the following day to promote their vote.

While the anti-Obamacare gesture might help the GOP next year, Republican campaign strategists say such broad brush strokes alone won’t be enough. Last week the National Republican Campaign Committee launched a new “red zone” program targeting Democrats in districts won by Bush-McCain-Romney on local issues instead of national themes. The reason is simple, Bozek explained: The party has been using the same playbook against vulnerable Democrats in vain.

“Each individual [red zone] race will have unique things going on in the district,” said Bozek, citing the GOP’s inability to beat Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler in 2010 “because we threw the kitchen sink at him when we needed to hit him on coal every chance we got.” (Republicans won his seat in 2012.) Similarly, “we have to fine-tune the messaging on Obamacare and target it to the different demographics.”

Democrats are also looking forward to Thursday’s vote, and campaign strategist say they will throw Republicans’ repeal effort right back at them in the midterms. “I don't know what the clamor is,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters. “We are pretty excited about [the law]. . . .They spent hundreds of millions of dollars on opposing this bill and tattooing it to me, which I accept with great pride, and then using that on subsequent elections. … I think it represents the bankruptcy of their agenda. They don't really have anything to talk about.”

Radel and other newer, conservative House members gather monthly for lunch with reporters on Capitol Hill to discuss where they stand on a variety of issues, offering a glimpse into intra-party arguments. During one such huddle, lawmakers described how their constituents were more concerned about Obamacare, the economy and jobs than they were about immigration reform, for example.

But there was also a concern about Cantor getting sidetracked from the fiscal fight.

“We can talk about flex time,” said Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, referring to legislation now passed by the House that allows workers to swap overtime pay with time off. “We can talk about bills on Obamacare that are going nowhere. … We can talk about messaging. But in August, we’re going to hit the debt ceiling and we can’t avoid that. We’re running out of money, and as Republicans, we have to get ready now and talk about the vision of what we have to do to get our country on a 10-year plan to balance the budget." 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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