Despite ongoing economic blight and the failure to reduce record unemployment, health care reform remains the most contentious issue of Barack Obama’s presidency. The bill embodies everything conservatives despise about big government, and resulted in angry demands for repeal while drafts were still being committed to paper. Republicans promised that one of their first priorities, should they retake control of Congress, would be to wipe this hated piece of legislation off the books forever.
Now the GOP owns the House, and John Boehner has made it clear that Republicans will waste no time living up to the promises that got them elected. A pledge to repeal the health care bill is paramount among Boehner’s priorities. A two-page House bill is drafted and waiting. Is this the time for the new speaker to make his move, and push for a repeal vote?
Repeal may be an easy victory in the House, but it will not survive the Senate, or a presidential veto. Republicans must consider whether a symbolic victory in the House is worth a real loss in the Senate. President Obama and Democratic legislators will relish the PR opportunity handed them by a Senate defeat, and if the legislative process is protracted, will use the same rhetoric Republicans used against them while Dems spent 2009 and the early months of 2010 preoccupied with health care reform while high unemployment festered.
The president has repeatedly referred to Republicans as the “Party of No” whenever his initiatives encounter opposition. Child nutrition and food safety bills were passed in December because legislators did not want to say “no” to hungry kids and “yes” to food poisoning. Senate Democrats will have a tough time saying no to job creation measures that, unlike their own, do not entail the expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars to pacify unions, or to maintain public sector bloat. The record speaks for itself. Unemployment rates were virtually unchanged in 2010 (see: Obama And Reid Add Deceit To Abysmal December Jobs Report).
Do Republicans really want a failed effort to repeal the health care bill to be the legacy of their House takeover, or do they want to be the party that put America back to work? Democrats were sucked down the black hole of health care, and while they managed to pass a bill, the cost of their preoccupation was enormous. The party will never be able to shirk accusations that their time should have been devoted to job creation. When Republicans took over the House, they assumed responsibility for fixing the unemployment rate. Cutting spending while not appearing to disadvantage those who are still suffering the effects of the recession will be very difficult, and the PR arm of the party must be up to the task of battling the fallout from a failed repeal that will be publicized as an attack on the disadvantaged.
Portions of the heath care bill are slowly being implemented, but the really ugly aspects of this legislation do not begin until 2012 and after. Provisions that go into effect before 2012, such as pharmaceutical manufacturer’s fees, can be dismantled, delayed, or have their funding cut off before the implementation dates. For the time being, the GOP needs to get the repeal vote out of the way, minimize the PR fallout from the near-inevitable loss in the Senate, and then focus on jobs, so that in two years health care’s repeal will be more than just symbolic.