Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The GOP Health Care Political Theater

The new meme going in conservative circles is to try to repeal whatever health care overhaul passes next year. The 2010 campaign theme coming from GOP pols and activists is to repeal the bill.

I have to admit that it's a clever strategy. Too bad it won't work.

As Dave Weigel notes, even if the GOP wins one or both houses next year, they will still have to face some hurdles- like President Obama:

But as Republicans gravitate towards a repeal message for the 2010 elections, they’re running up against the reality that health care reform would be prohibitively hard to roll back. According to conservative health care analysts, legal analysts, and political strategists, if President Obama signs health care reform into law, Republicans will have extremely limited opportunities to repeal any part of it.

“Anyone who thinks they’ll be able to repeal ObamaCare is kidding themselves,” said Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “If they want to stop it, they need to stop it now.”

In conversations with TWI, conservatives identified a few hurdles for a hypothetical, repeal-minded GOP Congress. The first is that in their most optimistic scenario, in which Republicans like Barton and Bachmann hold committee chairmanships, Barack Obama will be president, wielding a veto pen, until at least January of 2013. The second hurdle — one that Republicans aren’t considering, but Democrats are — is that once it passes, health care reform will win back public support. And the third hurdle is a provision of the bill that, according to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and other conservatives, may not ever be subject to new legislative oversight. The road ahead for repeal looks so daunting that many conservatives are looking at legal challenges, not GOP wins, as the most promising way to challenge health care reform.

The thing is there will be no attempt to repeal the bill. Why? Because it's pretty hard to repeal a law, let alone one that is basically an entitlement. Have Republicans pushed back Social Security or Medicare? Nope. It might be a bad bill, but it's still a bill that will give more Americans access to health care. The minute this bill becomes law, it becomes a third rail in American politics.

If the GOP wanted to make a real difference, they would have worked with Democrats and make hard bargains to come up with a bill everyone could agree with. But for the most part, they chose to sit this one out.

So, why is the GOP trying to make this a centerpiece of their campaign in 2010? I think the answer is to please the party activists. Stuart Taylor sums this up in a post back in November about the polarization of political parties. Taylor cites Morris Fiorina, the author of Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics who believes that the American public tends to be more moderate than the political elites and activists. As political moderates are driven out of both political parties, politicians focus more on pleasing the base than in offering solutions. Which is why the GOP is pushing this plan and why they have sat out the health care debates. The moderates in the party that would have made the deals have either left the party, retired or lost in recent elections. What's left are those who care more about party purity than they do in legislation.

What we have in the repeal movement is political theater. It's a good show, but in the end all it's just entertainment.

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