WASHINGTON — Republicans will make another move Wednesday to damage the national health care law they derisively call Obamacare. This time, they’re being aided by the champion of the measure, President Barack Obama.
With Obama’s recent move to postpone one part of the law as an opening, the Republican-ruled House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday to delay more key parts of the contentious measure before it can take full effect.
The move is the latest in a sweeping legislative and political campaign to weaken the 2010 law and raise even more opposition in the eyes of an already skeptical nation, especially as it heads into 2014 elections that will decide control of the Congress and set the stage for the 2016 campaign for the White House.
The national party is targeting eight vulnerable Democrats from Alaska to North Carolina up for re-election next year for supporting the law. One major conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, began airing TV ads in key states on the potential dire consequences of the law while another, FreedomWorks, started a national campaign to burn your “Obamacare Draft Card” or peacefully opt out of the law. On Capitol Hill, there are multiple efforts to investigate, repeal, delay.
Republicans probably won’t succeed in significantly changing the law – a Democratic-controlled Senate prevents that – but they hope to put a dent in Obama’s signature domestic achievement and reap any benefits at the ballot box next year.
Judy Feder, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University who’s a nationally recognized leader in health policy, said Republicans were taking advantage of a somewhat minor one-year delay that was “well received by everyone except Republican lawmakers.”
“It’s politics,” she said. “They want to stir confusion and negative feelings. They want to keep it from working.”
It’s not a one-sided clash: The administration and its Democratic allies have launched their own national campaign to sell the law.
But the measure remains unpopular. Fifty-two percent of Americans disapprove of the health care law, according to a Gallup poll this month, up from 45 percent last November.
Since the Democratic-controlled Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act without Republican support in 2010, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law last year and Obama won re-election. That did nothing to settle one of the most contentious debates in the nation’s capital.
The House has voted 37 times to repeal the law. Some GOP governors have rejected efforts to expand Medicaid, the government-run health program targeted for expansion in the measure, and have opposed setting up the required new marketplaces where individuals can buy insurance.
The Republican strategy took on renewed urgency when the Obama administration quietly announced that it would delay the requirement that larger employers offer workers insurance – the so-called employer mandate – on the Treasury Department’s website just before the long Independence Day weekend.
“It’s a train wreck,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “And even the administration knows that this law is unworkable.”
Republicans accuse Obama of delaying the employer mandate to shield vulnerable Democrats from any problems the law might cause before the 2014 elections.
But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said it wasn’t unusual to alter the schedule of a complex new law after receiving feedback from those involved – in this case employers – and he charged that Republicans were merely trying to further a political agenda.
“They want to try everything they can to undermine the implementation of this law and the reception by the American people of the benefits that they would gain from this law, even though it has been passed by both houses of Congress, it has been signed into law by the president and has been upheld by the Supreme Court,” Carney said. “All they say is do away with Obamacare because it’s Obamacare.”
The House will hold a pair of back-to-back votes Wednesday on whether to delay insurance mandates for both employers and individuals. Republicans want to put Democrats on the spot, thinking they’ll have a difficult time voting to give a reprieve to businesses and not individuals.
“That fairness issue is particularly potent,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican consultant who used to work for Boehner in the House and for 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
They are busily sending out tweets, news releases and videos on the perils of Obamacare. The latest from the Republican National Committee is a list of numbers on taxes and spending under the header “Obamacare by the Numbers, Coordinates for a Train Wreck.”
The Democratic Governors Association countered the next day: “Could it be that the real reason Republicans are so desperate to badmouth, block and obstruct Obamacare is that they are terrified that Obamacare just might succeed?”
Drew Lieberman, a Democratic political consultant, said health care would be an issue during the 2014 elections, but not in the same way it was in 2010 and 2012. “It’s a significant attack, but I don’t think it’s a silver bullet that Republicans can win an election on,” he said.
Still, Republican efforts aren’t strong enough for some conservatives. A slew of right-leaning groups want lawmakers to “keep their eyes on the prize”: full repeal.
“Why delay, when we should repeal?” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola asked. “Obamacare is an awful, anti-growth law today, it will be bad tomorrow and it will certainly still be bad a year from now.”