The Fight to Repeal Obamacare
The battle to repeal Obamacare has already begun, and early signs are good. President Obama signed the legislation into law and saw little change in his approval ratings, instead of the big boost his supporters were hoping for. Democrats' election prospects in November are as grim as ever. The substance of the law and the appalling machinations of its enactment have left a lasting and highly-negative impression on the public. Also encouraging is the speed with which the Republican party has taken up the idea that Obamacare must be repealed and replaced with conservative-oriented reforms. Republican senators like Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Cornyn of Texas have had to backpedal quickly after first talking down repeal. The issue is potent.
How the repeal of Obamacare happens and which reforms will take its place are unknowable at this point, but there's plenty of time to work the details out. Republicans don't have the votes to do anything this year. That they've stepped up and committed themselves to repeal is all that can reasonably be asked at this point. It will be a prominent campaign item for every Republican in 2010.
Democrats and their friends in the media are dumping as much cold water on repeal as they can. Undoubtedly some moderate Republicans who support it in public are skeptics in the privacy of their own heads and hearts. Meanwhile debate continues over repeal's prospects. Giddy liberals and gloomy conservatives both generalize about the impossibility of rolling back entitlements.
In any case, complete repeal probably can't happen before 2013. What happens politically before then can have a huge impact on the fate of Obamacare. Several things are necessary if we want repeal to work.
Republicans must get over their fear of the "popularity" of parts of Obamacare. The left has talked itself into believing that the public likes many aspects of Obamacare, even if they disapprove of the bill as a whole. Those with heads unclouded by partisanship must wonder at the logic that could support such a conclusion. Republicans need to keep that firmly in mind.
The great majority of people do not hold strong opinions about the nitty-gritty details of healthcare policy. Polls showing high approval numbers for employer mandates and the public option should be taken with a grain of salt – much depends on how the questions are worded. And for all the vaunted popularity of pre-existing conditions insurance reform, no amount of linguistic trickery will make seniors approve of Medicare cuts or conservatives and libertarians vote thumbs-up for insurance mandates and heavy fines.
Naturally, Democrats are eager to point out the popular features of Obamacare – the phased-in ban on insurers' charging more for pre-existing conditions, or the reduced out-of-pocket costs on prescription drugs for seniors. But the dismal truth can't be denied: the popular parts of the program are absolutely dependant on the unpopular parts. You can't have one without the other.
Obamacare opponents should be heartened that it will take years for the "good parts" of Obamacare to kick in. In the meantime the bad stuff will be on full display. Few voters will see any benefits early on; many will lose their private coverage though. Republicans will be able to say, truthfully, that they favor tackling the pre-existing conditions dilemma – they just don't want to kill or harm what's good about American health care right now. Voters will be highly receptive to that message.
Too many Republicans are fixated on the veto bogeyman. While it's true that there's little chance that the November elections will deliver to Republicans the 67 votes needed in the Senate to override an Obama veto, it doesn't matter. Should repeal lose its political luster, Republicans can simply let it drop. But if it remains popular, a veto fight with the President will help Republicans. The biggest mistake would be surrendering in advance.
A sustained repeal effort also keeps abortion on the front burner, to the very great benefit of Republicans. Pro-life activists played a vital role in the efforts against Obamacare – there are significant numbers of Pro-life Democrats. Most people don't like the idea of government-funded abortions.
Republicans should push next year to have the Hyde amendment (which bans Medicaid reimbursement for most abortions) written in to Obamacare. In making the proposal, Republicans alert voters that funding for abortion is part of Obamacare. This will hopefully encourage pro-lifers to stay in the fight. In the heat of battle over Obamacare last spring, the Democrat party went on record claiming they had no wish to dismantle Hyde or fund abortion. If that's true, they should have no trouble folding Hyde into Obamacare next year. We'll believe it when we see it.
The Kagan confirmation hearings this summer have given Republicans a further chance to highlight the abortion issue. Though the hearings have been notable for their tedium, the abortion question (and Kagan's support of the vile partial-birth abortion procedure) has attracted unwelcome attention – to Democrats.
The first implementations of Obamacare must be seen by the public as misbegotten – as harbingers of worse to come. The public is already uneasy with what it's seen since Obama signed his monstrosity into law. Corporations announced multi-billion dollar charge-offs because of it; the bill as drafted didn't cover children with pre-existing conditions, as Democrats first claimed; the CBO has revised its cost estimates sharply upward. All of this just feeds the impression with voters that Obamacare is badly designed, dreadfully complex, and chockablock with booby traps.
Under the legislation, checks are set to be mailed to seniors to help them meet their drug expenses in September. Democrats are patting themselves on the back for thinking of it, but this particular piece of political cleverness may come back to bite them. Not all seniors – not even most of them – will get the checks. Those who don't will be a sizable and resentful group.
On the tax front, the feds are only now turning to the question of how to dispense the small-business tax credits they point to as proof that liberals and Democrats don't hate capitalism. Whether they know it or not, they're venturing into a mine field, as companies downsize or stop hiring in order to be eligible for the credits. In this tight economy, that kind of thing gets noticed.
Senior citizens with Medicare Advantage will soon be getting letters from their providers telling them their benefits are being cut, or their plan is being shut down altogether. After hearing Obama's loud and repeated promises that these plans would be spared under his reforms, seniors will be all the more ready to give Republicans their vote and support for repeal.
But Obamacare will not be repealed without help from at least some Democrats. Indeed, opposition to Obamacare has been the only bipartisan thing about it so far. The repeal effort must be bipartisan. But Democrat legislators will have to be actively encouraged – or pressured – to join the fight.
Democrats in the House who opposed Obamacare would be good first targets. Their Republican opponents should make repeal a tent-pole issue. If Democrat incumbents don't reciprocate, Republicans can truthfully claim that for all intents and purposes their Dem opponents are in favor of Obamacare and only voted against it after Nancy Pelosi gave them permission. If the Democrat candidate continues to resist, the Republican has still increased his or her odds at winning. If the Dem bows to the pressure, he/she becomes another vote in favor of repeal. Of such dynamics are avalanches made.
Democrats must be put between a rock and a hard place. Some may try to wiggle out, claiming to favor repeal with this or that caveat. This is why Republicans must sponsor specific and highly-detailed bills of repeal. This is why they can't afford to be lukewarm about it. Democrats must be put on the spot: will they or will they not co-sponsor repeal legislation with Republicans? If not, why not?
The repeal campaign can't be confined to the beltway. Last year the summer town halls motivated Republicans and demotivated Democrats. Obamacare became a contentious and uncertain cause despite the huge Democrat advantage in both houses of congress. Politicians of all stripes will be watching this year – is the public still passionate about healthcare? Are they losing some of their fire? Republicans who have taken to heart the strategy and tactics outlined in this article will have stoked the flames of repeal and bettered the odds of its passing.
Those opposed to Obamacare need to start as many political brush fires as possible. Stockholders can make an issue of corporate support for Obamacare. Governors can petition for relief from those aspects of Obamacare which are burdensome to citizens of their states. Voters can make their opposition known by putting anti-Obamacare referendums on the ballot.
Obamacare opponents must resist any morbid temptations they might have to think of it as an enduring part of life in America. Their passion and fire must not burn out. If it does burn out, our cause will die an ugly death, starting in the polls. Those in the "strongly for repeal of Obamacare", or "strongly against Obamacare" camps will slide into the "somewhat opposed" group. And the somewhat opposers will cease to oppose at all. It's all downhill from there, and we will have no choice other than fleeing the country if we can or handing over control of our lives and our bodies to the Almighty State.
As we enter the election season later this year, candidates who support Obamacare must have it held against them, intensely and loudly. Anti-Obama candidates need to be recognized as electoral winners. Healthcare repeal and the lousy economy must be the top issues for Republicans. Obamacare will kill untold millions of jobs - GOP candidates must hammer on this point. Obamacare tax hikes will prolong the recession and blight the lives of millions of Americans. Repeal, if it is to gain strength after the November elections, must be seen and understood by all as something that helps Republicans ... and those Democrats who are brave enough and smart enough to take it up.
Republicans must (and very likely will) win back control of the House. It is, therefore, a good idea for them to do what they can to dampen expectations this November. That's easier said than done. Both parties have a pretty good idea about what's coming. The Dems know they're going to take a beating (and boy do they deserve it). But overconfidence and complacency open the door for a Democrat celebration if the Republican victory in November is perceived as being less than overwhelming. Which in turn weakens the political momentum for repeal.
And even if the best happens and Republicans take back control of the House and Senate, Obamacare will still be very difficult to reverse. But Republicans – and the large majority of Americans who are opposed to statist healthcare – will at least have a fighting chance at it.