GOP push for repeal of health reform: Is it politically wise?

House Republicans who ran on a pledge to undo health reform are promising a repeal vote soon. But could it ever pass the Senate or survive a veto? And would it anger voters?

Alex Brandon/AP
House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R) of Ohio talks with media on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Dec. 17, 2010. House Republicans say that they’ll vote to repeal President Obama’s signature health-care overhaul before his upcoming State of the Union address.

House Republicans plan to start the New Year with a splash: they say that they’ll vote to repeal President Obama’s signature health-care overhaul before his upcoming State of the Union address.

Talk about firing a cannon across a ship’s bow. Such a quick move could presage a season of aggressive GOP action.

True, it would be a fulfillment of campaign pledges from the 2010 mid-terms. Many Republicans ran on a promise to rein in Obama’s agenda in general, and to undo health-care reform in particular. But is it really a wise thing to do, politically-speaking, given that Democrats retain control of the Senate, and Obama’s got his veto pen already waiting on his desk?

After all, Republicans hammered Obama and the Democrats for spending so much time on the health-care bill instead of focusing on jobs and the economy. That charge seemed to resonate with voters. (Can you say, “Speaker Boehner”?) Now they’re kind of doing the same thing. It’s like they’re making revenge their first order of legislative business, instead of progress.

Health care reform bill 101: what the bill means to you

Plus, they might be falling into a trap. That’s what Democrats say, anyway. The White House continues to insist that the health-care overhaul will become more and more popular as more and more Americans experience its benefits. Beginning Jan. 1, seniors will receive government help to close the Medicare drug coverage “doughnut hole,” for instance. Medicare recipients are now eligible for free preventive services.

And make no mistake: The administration has executive branch bureaucrats working overtime to churn out regulations implementing the new law. They’re trying to make it a part of the fabric of US life as fast as they can.

“I think health-care reform is going to go down in history as one of the great achievements of this president,” said Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine in a CNN interview on Sunday.

Well, maybe. But polls show that public opinion on health care has barely budged since the bill was passed last March. The latest Kaiser Family Foundation survey finds that 42 percent of respondents have a generally favorable view of the law, and 41 percent have a generally unfavorable view. That split does not appear to reflect a mandate for either side in this argument.

And the success or failure of legislation may not have as direct an effect on Obama’s reelection prospects as administration officials hope. The recent lame duck session of Congress rushed through a bipartisan agreement to extend the Bush tax cuts, a repeal of the military’s ban on gays serving openly in the military, and a nuclear arms agreement with Russia, among other things. All these moves are favored by at least a plurality of the public, yet Obama’s favorability ratings have stayed flat.

Obama’s approval rating remains at 47 percent in a recent Gallup survey – right about where it was in November.

“One might have expected Obama to see a bump in approval from the flurry of legislation passed in Congress prior to the Christmas recess,” writes Gallup analyst Lydia Saad.

In the end, a vote to repeal the health bill would be a powerful symbol of change, showing how Republicans will steer Washington in a new direction, say GOP leaders. Some say it might not even be just a symbol – Rep. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan, incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Sunday that it is possible health-care repeal could actually become the law of the land.

“I don’t think we’re going to be that far off from having the votes to actually override a veto,” said Rep. Upton in a Fox broadcast interview.

If they don’t, Republicans will go after the bill piece-by-piece, said Upton. They’ll look at the issue of whether the US can require individuals to buy health insurance, for instance – the so-called “individual mandate” on which so many of the other bill’s other reforms depend.

“We’ll look at these individual pieces to see if we can’t have the thing crumble,” said Upton.

Health care reform bill 101: what the bill means to you

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