By MARSHA MERCER
“We think this is just the beginning,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday after the Senate failed, as expected, to repeal the health care law. “This issue is still ahead of us and we will be going back at it in a variety of different ways.”
The Republican approach to going back at President Obama’s landmark legislation – the Affordable Care Act -- is starting to feel like the political equivalent of water torture. Drip, baby, drip.
In the Senate, Democrats are in control, but Republicans have the numbers and the unity to run the table. All 47 Republicans and not one Democrat voted to repeal the law. The GOP attacks on “ObamaCare” aim to please voters who dislike the law on general principle.
But what if Democrats reframed the debate to vote on the law’s specific provisions that are already in place? Would we see real profiles in courage?
Which Republicans would go on the record against allowing children under 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance? Or in favor of reinstating the lifetime cap on insurance benefits? How about allowing insurers once again to discriminate against children with pre-existing medical conditions – yes or no? And who will just say no to seniors currently getting a break on their prescription drug costs?
Few elected officials of either party vote for their own political suicide. But when someone votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he or she is saying yes to eliminating every one of those popular provisions.
Proponents of health reform structured the law so that the carrots kicked in last year while the stick of the so-called “individual mandate” doesn’t appear until 2014. Democrats and Obama reasoned that Americans will like the benefits and won’t want to go back. That proposition will be tested in 2012.
For now Republican critics are getting a free ride. They can vote to repeal ObamaCare, say they’ll replace it (sometime) and imply that a future law will contain everything people like. They’re saying: Trust us.
At the same time, Democrats are in a bind. Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had vowed not to allow a vote on repeal, capitulated. He didn’t want a determined minority to gridlock the Senate.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson’s sweeping opinion from Pensacola, Fla., last Monday energized Republicans. Vinson declared not only that Congress had overreached its constitutional authority in requiring most Americans buy health insurance or pay a fee but that the entire law was void.
While the case moves toward the Supreme Court, Republicans are looking for ways to gut the law or cut off money to implement it.
Senators Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, introduced a bill that would allow states to opt-out of various provisions, including the requirements that individuals buy insurance and that employers provide it. Their idea is to bleed health reform dry by a thousand cuts. Republicans also may try to use the continuing resolution that pays for government operations to slow implementation.
Democrats and Republicans in the Senate did agree to revoke one part of the law. They voted overwhelmingly to strike a requirement that businesses file a 1099 tax form when they pay a vendor more than $600 a year. Small businesses had strenuously objected to the provision, and Obama had signaled this was an area for bipartisan compromise. The measure now goes to the House.
Interestingly, the 81 to 17 Senate vote shows how easily fiscal discipline can be bent. Everybody says the federal deficit is a serious problem and hard choices must be made. In fact, one of the main Republican arguments against the health law is that it increases the deficit; Democrats, however, cite other numbers that show the law will reduce the deficit.
The 1099 requirement would have brought in an estimated $19 billion in tax revenue over 10 years to pay for the health law. In its 1099 repeal amendment, the Senate did not specify how to make up the lost revenue, just that appropriated but unspent funds will be tapped.
In this era of political water torture, it probably won’t be long before the same Republicans who voted to repeal the 1099 requirement complain about the higher cost of the health law.
Drip, baby, drip.
© 2011 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.