Bid to repeal health care reform: Will Arizona tragedy alter debate?

A call for 'thoughtful consideration' of repeal of Obama's health-care reform law may signal a more moderate tone to next week's debate than both sides in the House had anticipated.

Anthony Weber/Troy Daily News/AP
Dr. Don Nguyen (foreground c.) of Doctors for America, addresses the media prior to presenting a petition to Speaker of the House John Boehner's Troy, Ohio, field office on Jan. 6. The group presented the petition in support of the Health-care reform act.

The House of Representatives will resume substantive work next week as it considers the bill to repeal President Obama’s health-care reforms. Debate on the measure is set to begin Tuesday, with a vote likely on Wednesday evening.

“As the White House noted, it is important for Congress to get back to work, and to that end we will resume thoughtful consideration of the health-care bill next week,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia.

The GOP leadership envisioned the health-care repeal vote as a triumphant beginning of the congressional session for the new Republican-controlled House. But the shooting spree in which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona was wounded and six others killed has greatly altered the context in which the 112th Congress begins its work. How will that tragic event affect action on health-care repeal, in particular?

Arizona shooting: Four ways to kick the partisan habit

For one thing, the shooting has drawn attention away from the GOP’s “repeal-Obamacare” issue. An event that Republicans thought would stand alone in Washington’s spotlight in mid-January has been overshadowed to some extent by a tragedy that is likely to rate as one of the most-followed news stories of the year.

For another, the tone of the debate may be different than leaders of both parties had anticipated. That would be the result of the recent call from politicians of all persuasions to tone down a culture of political rhetoric that may have become too coarse. Look at the quote from Mr. Dayspring, Representative Cantor’s spokesman. The GOP will resume not just consideration of the health-care bill, but “thoughtful” consideration. Would that phrase have been the same if the tragedy in Arizona had never occurred?

“What will be the tone of the debate? Will we have a really civil debate?” said Rep. James Clyburn (D) of South Carolina in an MSNBC broadcast interview on Thursday.

House GOP leaders have had to answer questions about whether they will change the official name of the bill, which is Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act. (The answer is “no.”) It’s a pretty strong likelihood that most House members will watch their use of metaphors in debate and stay away from possibly offensive war- or fight-related words. But debate is still debate, and people will disagree, note some members.

“We’re in a political environment and the discourse and the battles aren’t necessarily a bad thing. When it becomes a bad thing is when we so personalize it, where it just gets really mean,” said Rep. David Schweikert (R) of Arizona in a Fox News broadcast interview on Thursday.

Of course, it is possible that the repeal debate could be even more fraught with emotion than it otherwise might have been. Democrats may be quick to pounce on anything they deem offensive to try to move debate away from the repeal of the health-care reform law per se. Republicans could respond that Democrats are trying to take an unseemly advantage from a tragic event unrelated to the legislation at hand. And so on.

One thing that won’t change is the outcome of the debate. The bill will almost certainly pass the GOP-controlled House. It is unlikely to even reach the floor of the Senate. Mr. Obama would certainly veto it, if by some chance it ever reached his desk.

Arizona shooting: Four ways to kick the partisan habit

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