Both Parties Vow They Can Win on Health Care

Posted July 28, 2010 at 6:38pm

Senate Republicans escalated their attacks Wednesday against the $1.2 trillion health care reform law and insisted Democrats will pay a political price for it in November, with the majority responding that the GOP was gravely miscalculating.

Senate Republicans have delivered broadsides this week, criticizing four aspects of the new law and introducing legislation to partially repeal it. With just more than three months until Election Day, Republicans remain confident that their unanimous opposition to the law will help them pick up seats in the midterm elections. Democrats strongly disagree.

“They’re completely miscalculating,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “As long as they’re talking about repeal, good for us.”

But first-term Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), one of the few Republican incumbents facing the prospect of a competitive re-election, insisted his opposition to the health care bill “absolutely” remains a net plus for his campaign, saying voters particularly abhor the cost and implications for greater government involvement in health care.

“I think that the American people understand fiscally this country is in a dire straight, and they don’t want to see anything that contributes to the debt,” Burr said. “The American people watched the health care debate very, very closely. … At the end of the day they are convinced this is about the government taking over health care.”

The GOP action on health care included legislation introduced Tuesday by National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) that would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which Democrats created as a part of the new law to help contain costs. Republicans say it will lead to rationing.

On Wednesday, Republican Sens. Sam Brownback (Kan.) and Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas) used their perch on the Joint Economic Committee to hold a news conference and charge the new law with creating a costly, bureaucratic nightmare. Later in the day, Senate Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) argued that the law fails to deliver as advertised on small-business tax credits.

Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius contending that the law has led to taxpayer-funded abortions, which President Barack Obama and pro-abortion-rights Democrats vowed would not occur.

A senior Republican Senate aide said these actions were not specifically coordinated but were an outgrowth of a high level of independent interest on the part of GOP Senators to research the health care law and address its flaws. Still, House and Senate Republicans continue to work together to criticize the overhaul and believe doing so is an effective argument in their campaign to retake the majority.

“There is so much information to be shared, and the public continues to be so bothered, that it’s a topic we’re all going to continue to work on,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), an orthopedic surgeon who delivers a weekly “doctor’s second opinion” floor speech on the consequences of the new law.

Some Democrats concede that the Republican strategy of criticizing the law might be effective, noting that it can take a lengthy explanation for voters to truly understand what the overhaul does and how it will improve their lives. But most Democrats contend that voters will ultimately punish Republicans at the polls for voting against the law and calling for it to be either repealed or replaced with other reforms.

[IMGCAP(1)]”I think the tide has turned,” HELP Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said. “If I were running this year and my opponent were for repeal, I’d have a field day with that one. By November, every person in America, if you get cancer, your insurance company cannot drop you. That’s something you have in the law, and don’t let them take it away from you.”

In fact, the Democratic strategy for gaining the upper hand on health care is to avoid a referendum on the overall law and focus on specific popular provisions. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has even built a website explaining what repeal of the law would mean in each state with a contested Senate race.

Democrats are challenging the GOP to defend repealing a law that has outlawed insurance companies from dropping health insurance based on a pre-existing medical condition, allows children to be covered on their parents’ policy through age 26, and enhances Medicare’s prescription drug coverage for seniors.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), one of the law’s principal authors, said its backers come out winners “if you remind people [Republicans] want to repeal this, here’s what would be repealed, here’s what would happen to you. … They win; you lose. Here’s how.”

Republicans have responded that they support some of the law’s more popular provisions, but the package as a whole was a dramatic government overreach. And they do not appear concerned that the Democratic strategy will be successful.

“The health care bill in its totality is unpopular,” Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said. “They can try to sort of cherry-pick out pieces that say that. But I think that most people believe that this thing is a dog and it needs to be scrapped.”