News Analysis: Fight brewing in U.S. Congress over health care repeal

09:00, November 17, 2010      

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If Americans thought that after the mid term elections Democrats and Republicans would roll up their sleeves and cooperate in a bid to reduce high levels of unemployment, they could be wrong.

That is because a second battle -- or series of skirmishes, at least -- over health care reform is brewing, and could break out once the new Congress convenes next year, some experts said.

The two parties last year fought bitterly over U.S. President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, which ultimately passed in spite of strong Republican objections.

But now, nearly two weeks after Republicans made huge gains in the mid term elections, the GOP is itching for a fight over a repeal of the health care bill.

And while the party knows full well that a complete repeal of the law is unlikely -- even if one passed Congress, Obama would simply veto it -- experts said there is more to the story.

Indeed, the GOP's focus will be on calling attention to reform provisions that are unpopular with voters, in a bid to weaken Obama with voters in the lead up to the 2012 presidential elections, some experts said.

"In the next couple of years ... (There is) going to be an attempt to keep alive in the minds of voters those things about this bill that they don't like,"said Dean Rosen, former chief of staff to Republican Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist, at a recent panel discussion sponsored by the non-partisan Alliance for Health Reform.

Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have made no secret of their intentions of voting out the president, as he recently called for the ousting of U.S. President Barack Obama.

"The fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things is to put someone in the White House who won't veto any of these things," he said in a speech from Washington.


While an outright reversal of the healthcare law is unlikely, Republicans could use a number of tactics to slow its implementation.

If the president's reforms cannot be repealed "then it is my intention to begin repealing it piece by piece, blocking funding for its implementation, and blocking the issuance of the regulations necessary to implement it," said Rep. Eric Cantor, R- VA, in a recent letter to other Republican lawmakers.

Those words could ring true. Rosen said next year could see a series of "surgical strikes,"to repeal parts of the bill, such as the individual mandate -- a provision requiring Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a fine -- which critics have slammed as unconstitutional.

Norman Ornstein, resident scholar American Enterprise Institute, said at the panel that Republicans could disrupt the law's implementation by calling in Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius every other day to testify in time consuming hearings.

Other officials could follow, as incoming Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa, R-CA, said he wants to hold daily hearings to look into issues such as the stimulus, health care reform and the bank bailout.

Ornstein said additional delay tactics could include a shutdown of certain government departments, such as the 1995 government shutdown forced by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

But such a move could backfire against Republicans, as shuttering departments such as the Health and Human Services might not sit well with many Americans.

Indeed, some Republicans in Congress remember the outcome of Gingrich's 1995 move, which ultimately backfired and helped lead to a second term for former President Bill Clinton.

But while some Republicans in Congress might want to avoid a repeat of history, they may not be able to, as new spate of GOP members are coming in who want to take an axe to Obama's reforms.


John Rother, policy chief at the American Association of Retired Persons, said at the panel that it is easy to overdramatize the impact of the elections on health care reform, but underscored that there is no mandate in this election for Congress to spend a lot of energy on repealing the overhaul.

Many of the provisions within the bill remain popular, despite a lack of popularity of the overall law, and voters would rather see lawmakers focus on boosting employment numbers.

Some experts said that Republicans risk miscalculating the public mood if they focus all their energy on health care repeal, which could hurt them in the 2012 presidential elections.

What the public wants most of all is jobs, which is the main reason Democrats lost so many seats in the midterms, as the party was perceived as failing to boost employment.

Source: Xinhua


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