Republicans and Democrats are skirmishing over President Barack Obama’s health care law this week, and the fight is expected to intensify with the Supreme Court hearing arguments over the law’s constitutionality starting next week.
The battle is part of an underlying war — the presidential campaign — and top Republicans hope to leverage the attention on the 2-year-old law for maximum political effect.
In the House, Republicans are bringing up a bill this week to eliminate a cost-control panel created in the law.
Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting Democrats with a “Remember Repeal?” campaign that highlights their votes against repealing the law at the beginning of the 112th Congress.
Republicans will have other chances to take shots at the law, including when Congress considers other health-care-related legislation, such as reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act.
Later this summer — when the Supreme Court is expected to rule — will provide another opportunity to highlight the issue.
The Republican presidential frontrunner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has focused primarily on the economy. He might not be the best messenger for a GOP attack on the law, as the Massachusetts health care law he helped craft and signed is a model for the federal law.
But Congressional Republicans, who uniformly opposed the federal law, appear to be ramping up their criticism of the president’s signature domestic policy achievement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), for instance, recently told the Weekly Standard that “Obamacare should be the No. 1 issue in the campaign.”
Republicans, or at least the top Republicans’ spokesmen, see the health care law as a natural extension of talking about the economy.
Health care and the economy are “inexorably linked,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell. “Obamacare is a big part of the reason the American people are still asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Still, several Republicans said privately that the pivot is a hedge against what was previously the party’s focus on the unemployment rate.
That rate is currently at 8.3 percent and has been at 8 percent or above for virtually all of Obama’s term. In the past six months, the rate has gone from 9.1 percent to 8.3 percent.
Some GOP officials marvel that Obama hasn’t been hurt more by unemployment and, more broadly, the pace of the recovery.
“You can make the point that 8.3 percent is a long way from the 6 percent that they said unemployment would be at this time if we voted for the stimulus package. I think that’s a legitimate comment,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said.
But if unemployment continues to improve before Election Day, it could help Obama politically.