Republicans' new health care reform bill rallying cry: Repeal it

Republicans couldn't stop Democrats from passing the health care reform bill Sunday. Now, they vow to make the bill – and big government spending – the core issue of the 2010 elections.

Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post
Protesters in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., express their opposition to the health care reform bill on Saturday. Republicans will seek to harness these voters' energy in the 2010 midterm elections this November.

Republican lawmakers and activists had no trouble segueing to their new mantra following the passage of health care reform: “Repeal it.”

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina is already set to introduce legislation repealing the legislation that President Obama will sign on Tuesday.

Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, caught in a tough GOP primary battle for reelection, is arguing in a fundraising appeal that he should stay in the Senate to lead the fight for repeal.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich e-mailed his supporters Monday with his take on the “corrupt health care reform bill,” and solicited suggestions for how to repeal it.

“Repeal it” is a nice snappy slogan that fits on a bumper sticker. And in the short term, Republicans can make hay with the just-passed reform, especially during the immediate period before the benefits start to phase in, which is in six months.

“You have a window where they can try to raise doubts about what’s about to happen,” says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University in New Jersey.

Obama on tour

Despite a landmark victory in passing reform, the Obama administration knows it is vulnerable. Many in the public don’t like or understand the massive package of provisions.

On Thursday, Mr. Obama heads to Iowa City, Iowa – where candidate Obama first announced his health care plan in May 2007 – for a speech “to discuss how health insurance reform will lower costs for small businesses and American families and give them more control over their health care,” the White House announced Monday.

But for the long term, Republican strategists say, the health care battle is only part of a larger message on fiscal responsibility that will take them to November and on to the next presidential election in 2012.

Republicans have got to talk about "how the Democrat spending spree is going to strangle our economy, choke off a recovery, and mortgage our children’s future,” says GOP pollster Whit Ayres. Health care reform is “part of a broader argument about runaway spending and fiscal insanity.”

“Repeal it” as a campaign slogan could work in certain districts and with certain politicians, Mr. Ayres says. “They may want to talk about repealing parts of it, but the more powerful argument is that we need a check and balance on this runaway majority.”

GOP: 'repeal it' or taxes?

At least one Republican, David Frum, a former speechwriter for ex-President George W. Bush, believes the party should steer clear of “repeal it” altogether.

“Will they vote to reopen the ‘doughnut’ hole for prescription drugs for seniors?” Mr. Frum writes in a CNN column. “To allow health insurers to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions? To kick millions of people off Medicaid?”

Frum argues that Republicans need to focus on how the reform is financed, currently by a surtax on top income earners.

“Republicans champion lower taxes and faster economic growth,” he writes. “We need to start thinking now about how to get rid of the surtax – if necessary by finding other sources of revenue, including carbon taxes.”

Frum also isn’t so sure that the GOP strategy of trying to block reform, without a willingness to compromise, was the way to go. Republicans went for all the marbles, and ended up with none, he writes.

But heading into the fall, the party is feeling hopeful after two devastating election cycles, in which it started with control of both the White House and Congress and ended up with neither.

“No one would have imagined the conservatives would be so energized a year after 2008,” says Mr. Zelizer. “Now we’re talking about a possible Republican takeover of Congress. And they almost killed Obama’s biggest program.”

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