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Congressional Republicans will hold off on trying to repeal the health care reform law until January when their hand will be strengthened with a House majority and greater numbers in the Senate.
GOP leaders — and some rank-and-file Members — had vowed to launch the repeal effort immediately after the Nov. 2 elections. But the party is standing down until the new Congress convenes, conceding that Democratic majorities in the lame-duck session present an insurmountable roadblock. Republicans also think their top priority in the coming weeks must be extending the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts that are due to expire at year’s end.
“Look, we will be addressing our views about how to go forward on health care,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters on Tuesday. “We’ll be seeing if we can get the votes to repeal and replace the health care bill. I think that’s the first step. And you’ll hear from us on that subject early next year and then probably again quite often over the course of the next two years.”
“You will see action early [next year] on job creation and spending cuts,” added John Murray, an aide to House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), presumed to be the next Majority Leader. “Health care is a piece of that.”
Republican Senate aides stressed that McConnell and his GOP colleagues are not abandoning plans to try to take down the health care law, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement of the 111th Congress. Just last week, McConnell filed an amicus brief in support of the federal lawsuit brought by a group of state attorneys general that seeks to overturn the statute. House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) also filed an amicus brief in the case.
Today, Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.) will speak on the floor in another installment of his “doctor’s second opinion” to criticize the law. Barrasso, an orthopedic surgeon, will focus his comments on criticism about the law that was heard on the campaign trail by the 13 incoming Republican freshmen.
“I’m going to continue going to the floor with my second opinion,” he said.
Senate Republicans are set to increase their ranks from 41 to 47 in January, and Barrasso’s speech, titled “United Against Obamacare,” is intended to show that the new Conference is fully behind repealing the health care law.
Senate Republicans are pushing repeal legislation until January because they think a Republican-controlled House and six more GOP Senators will increase their bargaining power; they say they will have a stronger hand to pressure Senate Democrats to support the effort.
House Republicans, who will control the agenda in a few weeks, will either try to pass a bill to repeal the health care legislation or to kill funding for certain aspects of it. And like Senate Republicans, House Republicans’ top agenda item for the lame duck is addressing the expiring Bush tax cuts.
Some of the most vocal health care repeal proponents appear to be on board with the delay, but warn that Republican leaders must act as soon as Congress reconvenes next year. Among them is Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a tea party favorite. King was scheduled to meet Tuesday evening with Boehner to urge the presumed Speaker to make the health care law repeal the first bill introduced in the new Congress.
“This is a mission for the 112th Congress, so I’ll be lobbying the likely incoming Speaker to take his HR 1 designation and have that be the stand-alone repeal of Obamacare, no strings attached,” he said.
King acknowledged that it would be nearly impossible to try to do a health care repeal bill during the lame duck.
Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), a member of the GOP Doctors Caucus, also said he thought a health care repeal would happen next year. He said House Republicans would start by going for a full repeal.
House Republicans will have an easier time passing a measure than the Senate will. McConnell and the rest of the GOP leadership team are still planning their strategy.
But one thing is certain. Republicans are hoping that Members fresh off the campaign trail — and who were elected in part because they promised to repeal the health care law — will push Senate Democrats to reconsider their support for it.
“You want to bring the topic up when you have the most strength,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. “A lot of the new Members need to talk about this issue because they’re fresh off the battlefield and they can probably enlighten the rest of us as to how the people feel about it.”