More and more, activists have called for Republican candidates in the midterms to take a stand on ObamaCare by announcing whether they will support a repeal effort in 2011. The Washington Examiner amplifies these calls in its lead editorial today. But can Republicans actually repeal ObamaCare if it passes in 2010?
Among the most perplexing aspects of the Obamacare debate has been the apparent determination of Democrats to approve the proposal no matter what the consequences might be for their party come November and regardless of the growing public opposition to it. Were there not something radically wrong in the contemporary political system, President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would realize the time had come to back off, heed the clearly documented public will and adopt a more moderate position. Instead, they plunge forward, vowing to “go it alone” with only Democrat votes to pass Obamacare if necessary.
The problem here is the far Left controls the Democratic Party at the national level, and its radical ideology trumps political prudence. For these ideologues, winning at any cost is the bottom line. But they aren’t entirely blinded by ideology: They have calculated that now is their prime chance to turn what remains of the private health care system over to federal bureaucrats, thus finally achieving a dream of 19th-century progressive theorists and 20th-century welfare state liberal politicians. If that costs Democrats their congressional majorities in November, so be it because they are confident Republicans won’t have the political courage to repeal Obamacare. …
The only way to change that calculation is for the GOP to make crystal clear now that its first order of business come January 2011 will be repeal if it is returned to congressional majorities and Obamacare is on the books. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner have magnificently held their troops in line to date against Obamacare while saying nothing about repeal for fear of appearing to concede defeat. That changed Sunday as Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said, “People are saying, ‘We don’t want it.’ The Democrats are saying, ‘We don’t care, we’re doing it anyway.’ The Democrats will try to jam this through, and the rest of the year we’re going to be involved in a campaign to repeal it.”
The issue isn’t so much political courage as it is political strength. Once a bill passes into law, it takes another law to repeal it. That means that it either requires the signature of the President, or enough votes in both chambers of Congress to override his veto. In 2011, it’s doubtful that Republicans will control two-thirds of the House, and just getting to a majority in the Senate will be an almost-miraculous accomplishment. Since the Democrats that might go along with a repeal movement are the ones most likely to lose to Republicans in the upcoming midterms, they will have few allies across the aisle with which to carry a veto override, even assuming they can pass a repeal.
That doesn’t mean that the Republicans won’t have some tools with which to fight ObamaCare in 2011, assuming they gain control of Congress. The bureaucracies formed by the bill have to get funded starting in 2012 and 2013, budgets which Republicans would control in Congress. They can also pass other legislation, such as allowing interstate sales of health-insurance policies, to counteract the ObamaCare effort and attempt to rationally deal with pricing issues.
Unfortunately, a full repeal would require a new President in 2013, which is when the ObamaCare services are slated to begin. The best way to derail ObamaCare is to keep it from passing now — but if it does, Republicans have to limit the damage until they control the White House and can dismantle the bill entirely. Demanding a repeal effort in 2011 is laudable for its focus on the issue, but highly unrealistic in setting expectations for Republicans while Obama remains in office.
Update: Keith Hennessey outlines how Republicans can fight reconciliation in a must-read post.