McConnell: Even With GOP Majority, Health Care Repeal Tough to Pass

Posted March 23, 2012 at 8:44am

Legislation to roll back President Barack Obama’s health care law will be the first order of business next January if Republicans win the Senate this fall, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week in an interview with Roll Call.

But the Kentucky Republican conceded that repeal legislation would likely fail, given that even the most optimistic forecasts project the GOP to win a majority that falls well short of a filibuster-proof 60 seats. Still, if McConnell replaces Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as Majority Leader in 2013, the Republican vowed to use every parliamentary tool at his disposal to block the implementation of the law, much of which is scheduled to take effect in 2014.

“If I’m the leader of the majority next year, the first item up will be repeal of Obamacare,” McConnell said. “We will be looking at it in every way that we can to see if we can prevent the full implementation of this monstrosity.”

With the Supreme Court scheduled to hear three days of oral arguments on the constitutionality of Obama’s signature domestic achievement beginning Monday, Senate Republicans have revived a messaging campaign that they believe has been successful in helping turn public opinion against the health care law — and keep it there. According to the polling average, voters favor repeal 50.7 percent to 40.7 percent.

McConnell, who filed an amicus brief in the case, declined to predict how the Supreme Court would rule. However, he said if the law’s mandate to buy insurance is upheld, it would open the door to laws forcing Americans to “eat carrots, or to quit smoking, or to lose weight.” Democrats dismiss such complaints as hyperbole and contend Americans will embrace the law once it is fully implemented and they experience all of its benefits.

But while this week’s two-year anniversary of passage of the health care law and next week’s high court hearing offered a timely excuse to raise the politically charged issue, McConnell is also looking ahead to the fall campaign. The Minority Leader suggested that voter dissatisfaction with the health care law could boost Republicans at the ballot box, particularly if perceptions of the economy were to improve and gas prices were to drop.

McConnell expressed no reservations with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the GOP presidential nominee if the health care law becomes a dominant issue in the 2012 campaign. Despite the Republican frontrunner’s consistent vow to repeal the law, his critics charge that his enactment of a Massachusetts health care law that includes a mandate to buy insurance would compromise his ability to prosecute the issue against Obama. McConnell disagrees.

“I think that his support for repeal — his indication that he’s going to grant every conceivable waiver that he can to prevent the implementation of [the law] — is quite enough,” McConnell said flatly. “I think most Americans understand the difference between a state government and a federal government.”

Obama has had little to say this week in response to the new Republican offensive.

But House and Senate Democrats have taken to the floor in each chamber to offer a robust defense of a law that some believe cost many of their now-former colleagues their jobs in the 2010 midterm elections. Democrats tout many of the law’s reforms, particularly those that allow children to remain on their parents’ policies until age 26, prevent insurance companies from denying coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition and increase prescription drug coverage for seniors.

Republicans, citing new Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Affordable Care Act will cost taxpayers almost double its original price tag and contending that insurance premiums have only increased since the law was enacted, insist that the politics and the policy of this issue are on their side. McConnell said that the United States already had the “finest health care in the world” and that the law needs to be scrapped so that Congress can start over.

If McConnell has his way, the law will be replaced with modest reforms focusing on reducing the cost of health care premiums, such as tort reform and enabling the purchase of insurance across state lines. The Kentuckian said the current law’s focus on expanding coverage to the uninsured by opening up Medicaid to Americans not in poverty could force states like his to divert funding from other priorities, such as higher education, which could drive up tuition costs.

“Almost none of the promises the president made in regard to this legislation are coming true,” McConnell said. “It’s the single worst piece of legislation that’s been passed since I’ve been in the Senate. … It’s a horrible mistake that needs to be undone.”