WASHINGTON — Republicans in control of the U.S. House of Representatives are vowing to kill the sweeping health-care overhaul that’s been President Barack Obama’s biggest legislative achievement — but are their threats mere political showboating or a symbolic opening shot in a bitter battle ahead?
As they were sworn in on Wednesday, party leaders reiterated their intention to introduce a bill in the House next week that would repeal so-called Obamacare.
“That was our pledge to America,” said Tennessee congressman Phil Roe, a physician.
“I came with over 30 years’ experience in the practice and management of medicine and really wasn’t included in this debate at all. And I think that there are certainly much cheaper ways . . . we need to repeal the whole bill and start from scratch in a bipartisan manner.”
It’s a strategy that’s been met with some ridicule, given Democrats still control the Senate and Obama would veto a repeal from the Oval Office. Some also suggest the repeal bill is simply aimed at coddling the new Tea Party members of the Republican caucus who vehemently oppose health-care reform.
Robert Gibbs, the outgoing White House press secretary, was dismissive of the repeal vote on Wednesday, while Sherrod Brown, a Democratic senator from Ohio, called it “a colossal waste of time.”
In a home-state appearance at a seniors home in Youngstown, he added that Republicans are “just playing politics.”
But that isn’t stopping some Democrats from publicly railing against any notion of repeal. In an editorial on Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune, Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary who’s overseeing Obamacare’s implementation, urged Republicans to reconsider.
“Repeal would slam the brakes on this progress, taking control away from families and their doctors and putting it back in the hands of insurance companies,” she wrote. “I can’t think of a worse idea for American families.”
Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says it’s true the Republican repeal bill has no legs. But Republicans have other weapons in their arsenal now that they control the House of Representatives, and won’t hesitate to use them in their fight against health-care reform.
“This is the first stage of a process to slowly take it apart, even though the vote to repeal won’t go anywhere,” he said Wednesday.
“The Republicans, through a number of different legislative processes, can slow down implementation, and take Obamacare apart if possible. They’ll do that through a number of oversight hearings and committees, where they’ll call on members of the administration to defend it and try to keep public opinion negative on health-care reform.”
Republican lawmakers can also technically hold up reform, since all revenue and spending measures originate in the House under the U.S. Constitution.
The reason the House controls the nation’s purse strings seems almost quaint by today’s standards: when the Constitution was written, it was felt that senators were wealthier than House representatives and therefore might be more liable to overspend government cash. But it’s a state of affairs that gives Republicans some muscle when it comes to tripping up Obamacare.
“They’ll use the budget process, where the House has real leverage,” Jillson said. “They’ll be able to seriously impact Obamacare’s implementation and its funding.”
Whether that’s wise is another question entirely, Jillson added. Savvy Republicans, he added, should instead try to pick away at the lesser provisions of the bill, particularly those that have proven onerous for small businesses, while leaving the core of the legislation alone.
“There are a number of little things Republicans can go after where the Democrats should just let them pass and even join with them by saying: ‘We recognize this was a very large bill and maybe we over-reached in places,”’ he said.
“But if Republicans seriously try to limit the core of health-care reform, that will help Democrats argue that they’re trying to deprive Americans of the health-care reform that their families have needed for a long time.”