Conservatives in Congress are drawing up their wish list for a Republican Senate, including “pure” bills, like a full repeal of Obamacare, border security and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline — unlikely to win over many Democrats and sure to torment GOP leaders looking to prove they can govern…

Though no calendar has been set, members want an early vote on Obamacare. House members have cast more than three dozen votes to replace aspects of the 2010 health care law, but any repeal effort has hit a full stop in the Democratic Senate. Still conservatives are eager to force Obama’s hand by sending an early repeal bill if McConnell assumes the Senate majority leader seat.

“I hope we use reconciliation to do some form of Obamacare [repeal] to show this is how we would repeal it and this is what we will replace it with,” Jordan said. “Use reconciliation to get that to the president’s desk and see what he does. I mean, it will probably be vetoed.”

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) downplayed the prospects of repealing Obamacare if Republicans win control of the Senate next week, which they are slightly favored to do in numerous forecasts…

“Well, it’s the top of my list, but remember who’s in the White House for two more years. Obviously, he’s not going to sign a full repeal,” McConnell said. “It would take 60 votes in the Senate. Nobody thinks we’re going to have 60 Republicans. And it would take a president — presidential signature. No one thinks we’re going to get that.”…

“I’d like to put the Senate Democrats in the position of voting on the most unpopular parts of this law and see if we can put it on the president’s desk and make him take real ownership of this highly destructive Obamacare,” McConnell said. He added that Barack Obama “is the president of the United States until January of 2017, and people need to understand that that constrains our ability to do for this law what we’d like to do, which is to get rid of it.”

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That suggests McConnell isn’t about to pull a nuclear option of his own and do away with the filibuster just for the sake of repealing the law.

Republicans including McConnell have talked about rolling back much of the Affordable Care Act through the budget reconciliation process — which would allow them to bypass a filibuster. That route is difficult to traverse and forbids the inclusion of items that are not budget-related. Such a bill could also still be vetoed, making the whole process a symbolic exercise without a Republican president.

Other smaller pieces might get super-majorities, such as repealing the 2 percent excise tax on medical devices. McConnell also mentioned nixing the individual mandate as another target.

McConnell again suggested Republicans would try to use the appropriations bills to rein in the Obama administration.

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The GOP leader had previously suggested that the budget reconciliation process could be used to repeal ObamaCare, a procedural manuever that would require only 51 votes.

In July 2012, after the Supreme Court upheld the healthcare law’s individual mandate as a tax, McConnell said on Fox News Sunday, “The chief justice said it’s a tax. Taxes are clearly what we call reconcilable. That’s the kind of measure that can be pursued with 51 votes in the Senate.” 

McConnell made those remarks before President Obama won a second term. Overriding a presidential veto requires a two-thirds vote from both the House and Senate.

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“This is why nobody believes Mitch McConnell anymore,” said Mary Vought, spokeswoman for the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group that has pushed Tea Party candidates in GOP primaries against establishment incumbents. “He says he wants to rip Obamacare out ‘root and branch,’ but then flips days before his election and says he plans to surrender.”

Dan Holler, a spokesman for the political wing of the Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action, said Republicans have to explain to America what they’re for. “That is not going to happen if they sit there and make excuses about [Senate Democratic Leader] Harry Reid or Barack Obama. They need to be proactive about putting out an agenda,” he said.

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Speaking with WPBI radio, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso said Republicans would be best served by trying to repeal bits of the law and pass legislation the president would actually sign.

“In terms of the things that I want to see put on the president’s desk, I want to systematically strip away the very worst parts of Obamacare, that have hurt patients, have hurt providers, and have hurt our economy,” he said Wednesday…

“Well, I would imagine there will be a vote on repeal, but I — let’s be realistic, Barack Obama is still going to be in the White House for another two years, and he is not going to sign that,” he added. “I want to put things on his desk that he would actually give true consideration to signing, because they’re good for our economy, they’ll get people working again, and they’ll help move the country forward.

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“I don’t have a lot of high hopes the president will be in favor of repealing it,” [Rand] Paul said after meeting with local business people in Hiawatha. “But I think at the very least, Obamacare needs to be made less bad.”…

Among the fixes the physician prescribes is expanding the use of health savings accounts — “an enhancement of freedom of choice.”

“Right now, the biggest thing Americans dislike about Obamacare is that they said you could keep your doctor, but you can’t,” he said. “They said you would have the choice of keeping your doctor or buying what insurance you want, but you really don’t.”

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Ohio Gov. John Kasich wants to be very clear: He wants to repeal Obamacare.

Just not the part he likes…

If Republicans take the Senate, Kasich said, “you better believe they’re gonna repeal Obamacare and I agree with that.” But, he added, “there’s got to be an accommodation” for Medicaid expansion.

Kasich is the latest high-profile Republican to struggle with the implications of repealing Obamacare as Americans have begun to benefit from its provisions. In a debate last week, Sen. Mitch McConnell advocated “pulling out Obamacare root and branch.” But Kentucky’s successful exchange, through which enrollees can receive federal subsidies to buy health insurance, “is a website,” McConnell said, that “can continue.”

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It’s also true that anyone expecting big changes is probably going to be disappointed. We are not going to see major tax or entitlement reform. Obamacare is not going to be repealed. Nor is Dodd–Frank.

This is not because the Republicans likely to be elected are all a bunch of RINO squishes, as the fringes will inevitable charge, but because the institutional structures of Washington make change slow and cumbersome. Recall that with Obama as president, a large Democratic majority in the House, and a temporary super-majority in the Senate, Obamacare barely squeaked through. Even after next week’s election, the Republicans will enjoy nowhere near such control. Obama will still be president, with the power of the bully pulpit, executive orders, and the veto pen. Democrats will have the power to filibuster (the nuclear option killed the filibuster only for presidential appointments, not regular legislation). If every Republican were a Ted Cruz clone, it wouldn’t change this reality

Even on Obamacare, while full repeal is not in the cards, substantial changes could be. The medical-device tax would almost certainly go. Risk corridors would likely follow, putting an end to the insurance-company bailout. We should also expect legislation to repeal the much-postponed employer mandate, as well as a bill to allow people to keep non-compliant insurance plans.

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It is true that Obama would never sign a full repeal of Obamacare. He would never sign a repeal of the individual mandate, either. It’s unlikely he would sign a repeal of the medical device tax, unless perhaps Republicans traded him something for it. (The era of hostage negotiation seems to be over.)

So why would McConnell hold votes on those measures that won’t be signed, instead of full repeal, which also won’t be signed? Because, as he says, those measures are “extremely unpopular.” (Or at least the individual mandate is. The medical device tax is unpopular with the medical device industry.)

But isn’t Obamacare as a whole also “extremely unpopular”? Why won’t Republicans force Obama and Senate Democrats to defend the law as a whole?

The answer is that McConnell realizes that repealing Obamacare is unpopular. He can place his party on the winning side by posturing against a couple of select pieces of the law. But posturing against the entire law by calling for its repeal is a losing issue.

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When and if they take control of the Senate, Republicans will have a big incentive not to simply create more gridlock: It would make them look terrible, worsening their image as the “party of no” and making it harder for their presidential nominee to win in 2016. The same goes for passing unpopular legislation like the Ryan budget or repealing Obamacare—which most voters do not favor, even though the law is also unpopular. As things stand today, neither party is to blame when Congress can’t get anything done, because each party controls half of the Capitol. (While the House’s dysfunction is well known, the Senate has also become a legislative graveyard, to the point that even Democratic senators publicly complain about it.) But with control of both houses of Congress, Republicans would be on the hook for Congress’s actions. They alone would get the blame if Congress remained dysfunctional—and they alone could claim credit if Congress actually passed bills with popular support. If Republicans passed such moderate, constructive legislation, Obama would be hard pressed to simply veto everything they put on his desk…

At least in the abstract, however, there are a number of bills a Republican majority could pass that Obama would agree to sign. Obama—the real Obama, not the left-wing warrior of conservative fever dreams—loves the idea of bipartisanship and has been frustrated by a GOP he sees as unwilling to come to the table. He has agreed in principle, in the past, to ideas like the grand bargain, which his base loathes. Liberals also suspect Obama is willing to allow the Keystone pipeline, a decision on which he has delayed in the face of intense pressure from environmentalists. Most liberals contemplating a GOP Senate majority have focused their preemptive ire on the image of a vengeful McConnell threatening more brinksmanship and shutdowns. But perhaps it’s the dealmaking McConnell they should fear more.

Some, in fact, are already worried about this. I recently asked a top Democratic strategist why he worried about a Republican Senate takeover when, after all, McConnell would still need Democratic votes to pass legislation and Obama could still block bills with a veto. “What scares me the most,” he said, “is what Obama will agree to.”