Even before today’s vote on repealing the health care reform law, House Republicans were moving on.
GOP Members are now focusing on trying to dismantle President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment through a series of targeted changes, rather than one symbolic shot. The repeal bill will pass the House later today, but Republicans have long acknowledged it won’t go any further.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor said as much Tuesday when he called the repeal debate the beginning of “deliberations on replacing this health care law with the kind of alternatives that Americans really want.”
The Virginia Republican said several House committees will begin work in the coming weeks on a series of smaller health care measures. He also acknowledged that this week’s debate on the repeal is far different from the health care fight that kicked off the 112th Congress: “This is about health policy. … We expect the debate to be about policy.”
Republicans and Democrats alike said there were two reasons for the relatively tame debate: the largely symbolic nature of the vote and the fact that few Members have the stomach for a highly charged fight in the wake of last week’s attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
Members are acutely aware that “literally every word is being microanalyzed,” a senior House GOP aide said.
The aide also remarked, “I don’t think there’s any doubt that the House is going to pass this … so you don’t have this sweating-it-out dynamic” that was a part of the health care debate in the 111th Congress.
Cantor and other leaders had delayed the repeal vote for a week following the shooting. They put it back atop the agenda late last week.
One aide to a rank-and-file lawmaker acknowledged the dynamics of the debate have changed, saying: “We’re making this strictly about policy. Let’s keep this civil.”
Republicans are now settling in for a more protracted health care fight that carries on throughout the next two years, one senior GOP aide said.
Republicans will try to undermine the law, first, by arguing that “Obamacare is not the right path for the country,” and then by trying to explain to the public that “this is what a replacement bill would look like,” the aide said.
The shift in tactics by the GOP has also given way for Democrats to come together on a strategy of their own. Democrats struggled for every vote when they passed the law last year, but conservatives and liberals have largely aligned during the repeal fight.
Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), a Blue Dog Coalition member who opposed the law, has shared his leadership’s argument that repealing the law now would be “immoral.”
When asked Tuesday whether he was worried about mass defections during today’s vote, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) answered, “No.”
A senior Democratic leadership aide acknowledged that the repeal debate was much easier for the party than passage of the law itself. In addition to accusing Republicans of playing politics by holding the vote, Democrats have spent recent days trying to put a human face on the new law. Democrats have tried to show how the measure has benefited people.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) on Tuesday didn’t try to hide the strategy. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders held a hearing-style event Tuesday, which she said was an opportunity to “hear the voices of parents, children, students, seniors and small-business owners. We will see the real faces of reform in the one and only hearing where these Americans can share their concerns before the vote to repeal their rights.”
Earlier in the day, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius held a conference call with reporters to highlight specific examples of individuals who had benefited from the new law; she was expected to hold a similar event today.
Meanwhile, White House officials were also holding briefings with media targeted at specific interest groups. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, for instance, briefed a small group of reporters Tuesday on the health care law’s effects on the black community.
One Senate Democratic aide said Senate Democrats were also working closely with the White House to humanize the law.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released a recent HHS report showing nearly half the population under age 65 has a pre-existing condition.
“The health insurance reform we passed protects consumers, plain and simple. Repealing the entire law would put insurance companies back in charge of patient care, rather than the patients themselves,” the Nevada Democrat said in a statement. “Because of this reform, soon insurance companies won’t be able to deny access to affordable, life-saving care to any American with a preexisting condition, whether it’s cancer or asthma.”
The Senate Democratic aide said that over the next few days, Democrats will highlight the law’s small-business tax cuts, free wellness visits for seniors provided under Medicare and several other programs.