WASHINGTON — Congress is leaving town on a note of bipartisanship, passing a budget resolution that won support from more than 160 members of each party in the GOP-controlled House last week.
But that bipartisanship followed a bitter months-long tussle over President Obama’s health-care law, and House Republicans are gearing up to take another go at the law when they return in January.
Leadership hasn’t identified what approach it intends to take, which has the rank-and-file lining up with suggestions. Minnesota’s three Republicans have their own wish lists: Reps. John Kline and Michele Bachmann say the House should take another shot at fully repealing the law, while Rep. Erik Paulsen said the focus should shift to other health-care issues while waiting for the law to peter itself out.
Most hard health-care policy proposals have taken a backseat this fall while the GOP waged a public campaign against the fumbled Affordable Care Act rollout. For now, the call to pass any health-care legislation, repealing the law or otherwise, has quieted – instead, Republicans have used their control of House committees to highlight ACA concerns ranging from the cancellation of low-end health-care plans to the glitchy federal exchange website to niche items, like a Kline hearing last month on the impact of the employer mandate on schools.
House Speaker John Boehner hasn’t said what Republicans will look to do to the law next. Paulsen said leadership hasn’t laid out a strategy with members, who will meet in January to discuss one, and in his last weekly press conference of the year last week, Boehner didn’t tip his hand.
“We’ve spent the last year trying to protect the American people from the consequences of this health-care law,” he said. “And if you look toward next year, we’re going to continue to look for ways to protect the American public from what’s happening out there.”
For now, Minnesota’s three Republicans have some ideas.
Bachmann hasn’t wavered: she’s still on Team Full Repeal.
“People want us to get rid of the current system, they don’t like it, so my position hasn’t changed, which is: fully repeal Obamacare, and that’s what we need to do,” she said.
Kline is right there with her.
“Trying to go fix a piece or tweak a piece isn’t the right way to go, we still firmly believe that it should be repealed and go from there,” he said.
But as to whether it will happen, Kline said he has no more information than anyone else.
“The crystal ball is always a little bit murky as we go forward.”
Democrats waging campaign against repeal
There are seemingly dozens of Obamacare-related polls released every week, and even as they find the law dragging down Obama’s popularity (his approval rating is around 37 percent), much of the public remains opposed to repeal itself.
Because of that, Democrats’ PR pushback at this point has focused on highlighting popular provisions in the law, like the pre-existing conditions ban, and reminding Republicans that a full repeal would remove those elements as well as the controversial ones.
This week alone, they’ve focused on the law’s required refunds from companies that spend too much on overhead costs and the provision allowing those under 26 years old to stay on parents’ plans. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has dubbed its campaign “The Cost of Repeal,” and launched a website and web ad — focused in Minnesota on Kline, Paulsen and 8th District candidate Stewart Mills — to that effect on Tuesday.
But Kline said he doesn’t think there’s a way to pick and choose between what works in the law and what doesn’t. He said Congress “ought to clean our plate,” repeal the law and start over.
“The law is very intertwined, it would be very difficult to go in and fix a little piece of it and solve the problem,” he said. “As more and more Americans see what is happening, we’ll see momentum continue to rise to say let’s get rid of this thing.”
Paulsen: Repeal won’t happen under Obama
As much as Republicans might want to get rid of Obamacare, Paulsen said he’s under no illusions it’s going to happen while Obama himself is in office.
“The realty is the law is not going to be repealed while this president is there,” he said, “and unless the Senate changes its make-up after the next election, then there’s an opportunity to make significant changes and put some things on the president’s desk that will force accountability.”
In the meantime, Paulsen said the focus could be on health-care fixes outside the realm of the ACA. Lawmakers are working on repealing the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate reimbursement formula, and Paulsen has proposed working on chronic care funding reforms as well.
As for Obamacare, “I talk to more and more people now, both in the health-care world and otherwise who say you know what, maybe the best way to get rid of this law is to just let it be fully implemented and let it collapse under its own weight,” he said.
Bachmann still considering lawsuit
Bachmann said she’s still considering a potential lawsuit against the Obama administration’s tendency to delay implementing parts of the law, and there are a couple of House resolutions on that subject as well. (The courts are still considering bits and pieces of the law, regardless of what Congress is doing with it.)
In the meantime, Bachmann said the GOP has a list of health-care plans they could consider as an Obamacare replacement, such as allowing beneficiaries to purchase insurance across state lines, or enacting liability protection measures for doctors.
“That’s really the untold story,” Bachmann said. “For years, Republicans have been offering free-market solutions. The easiest way to tell people is: We want people to be able to buy whatever health insurance they want, that works for them, from anywhere in the United States with no federal mandate.”
Theda Skocpol, a Harvard University political science professor who’s written books on both health-care reform and the Tea Party, called these plans “pieces that have been around for ages.”
Republicans adopted a strict anything-but-Obamacare agenda after Obama took office, she said, but haven’t really looked to move anything legislatively beyond repeating the law as a whole.
“There’s no possibility that Republicans could come up with an alternative,” she said. “I don’t think they think they need to … I think they’re going to stick with ‘Obamacare is a train wreck we need to get rid of it.’”
Even if Democrats come back next year with a slate of potential fixes — most of those are coming from potentially vulnerable red-state Democrats at this point — Skocpol predicted they’re not likely to find willing or able partners in the GOP.
“I don’t see [Boehner] trying to work out all the wrinkles in the Republican positions short of ‘repeal’ on health care,” she said. “Democrats are going to own the ‘we’d like to make fixes message,’ but they’re probably not going to make any of them.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry