Washington Top Republicans are starting to worry about their health care rallying cry “Repeal the bill.” It just might singe GOP candidates in November’s elections, they fear, if voters begin to see benefits from the new law.
Democrats, hoping the GOP is indeed positioning itself too far to the right for the elections, are taking note of every Republican who pledges to fight for repeal. Such a pledge might work well in conservative-dominated Republican primaries, they say, but it could backfire in the fall when more moderate voters turn out.
At least one Republican Senate candidate, Mark Kirk of Illinois, has eased back from his earlier, adamant repeal-the-law stance. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which fiercely opposed President Barack Obama’s health legislation, now urges opponents to pursue a “more effective approach” of trying to “minimize its harmful impacts.”
For Republicans, urging a full repeal of the law will energize conservative activists whose turnout is crucial this year. But it also carries risks, say strategists in both parties.
Repeal is politically and legally unlikely, and some grass-roots activists may feel disillusioned by a failed crusade.
“It’s just not going to happen,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said of repeal in a speech Wednesday. “It’s a great political issue,” he said, but opponents will never muster the 67 votes needed in the 100-member Senate.
Over the next few months, Democrats say, Americans will learn of the new law’s benefits, and anger over its messy legislative pedigree may fade.
Republican leaders are moving cautiously, wary of angering their hard-right base.
In recent public comments, they have quietly played down the notion of repealing the law while emphasizing claims that it will hurt jobs, the economy and the deficit. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who chairs the committee responsible for electing GOP senators this fall, said in an interview, “The focus really should be on the misplaced priorities of the administration” and Congress’ Democratic leaders.
Asked if he advises Republican Senate candidates to call for repealing the law, Cornyn said: “Candidates are going to test the winds in their own states. ... In some places, the health care bill is more popular than others.”
Three weeks ago, Cornyn told reporters he thought GOP Senate candidates would and should run on a platform of repealing the legislation.
Cornyn and others increasingly are focused on several corporations’ claims that a provision of the new law that cancels a tax benefit will hurt profits and hiring. This approach places a greater premium on pivoting to the economy instead of dwelling on the legalistic process of trying to repeal the complex law.