- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Health care will be the most potent political issue Republicans have over the next few years, and the battle will be waged on several simultaneous fronts.

First, the signature domestic achievement of President Obama’s first term, health care reform (also known as Obamacare), will forever carry with it the asterisk of it having been repealed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 245-189. The repeal vote found unanimous Republican support and the votes of three Democrats. In the last Congress, 34 Democrats voted against Obamacare and only 13 of them survived to serve in the minority in the 112th Congress.

The 10 who voted against Obamacare, but also opposed repeal last week, will be among Republicans’ top targets in the 2012 cycle. Democrats attempted to undermine House Republicans effort to repeal Obamacare by calling it “symbolic.”

No political issue was more damaging to the political careers of Democrats in 2010 than health care. But Democrats said that since the repeal will not pass the Senate and would ultimately be vetoed by Mr. Obama, then it was a waste of time. Let’s examine that line of thought.

The vote surely was not a waste of time to the three House Democrats who supported repeal and the other 10 who at least considered supporting repeal after opposing Obamacare the first time around.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has promised that the repeal bill will never receive a vote in the Senate. What Mr. Reid knows is that 23 of his members are facing re-election in 2011 and with 47 Republicans in the Senate, it would not be impossible for a repeal vote to gain 51 votes to pass the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, is already using Senate procedure to force a vote on the repeal bill. If made to cast a tough vote, do SenateDemocrats repeal Obamacare or do they defend it and face an angry electorate?

Republicans understand that repealing Obamacare can only truly be done in 2013 with a new president. Accordingly, a winning strategy on health care will fold in other efforts.

House Republicans will utilize their newfound subpoena power to investigate the bill’s impact, shining a bright light into the dark corners of the 2,000-page bill. The Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week on medical-liability reform, which was absent from Obamacare. The Energy and Commerce Committee will likely first investigate the cost of Medicaid expansion to the states. The Ways and Means Committee will likely first examine the true cost of the legislation. The Education and Workforce Committee will examine employer mandates. These committees will further undermine public support for the bill by revealing its true impact.

Meanwhile, a parallel track will be pursued with the judicial branch. Already lawsuits have been filed and heard in Virginia, Florida and Michigan, and a total of 26 states have joined these lawsuits. A ruling by U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson recently struck down the individual mandate, the linchpin that holds the bill together, and last week the U.S. Justice Department appealed the ruling. Ultimately, the Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of the law generally and the individual mandate specifically, likely 12 to 18 months from now (less than six months from Election Day).

The final track on which the political battle over health care will be fought is in the presidential campaign. Republican contenders will attack Obamacare every day on the campaign trail and will likely pursue a ballot-referendum strategy, first proposed by Republican operative Gentry Collins, placing the question of Obamacare on the ballot in as many states as possible. This worked in 2004 when a ban on gay marriage was proposed on the ballot in 11 states, according to CNN, including Ohio (where it passed with 62 percent), which provided President Bush with the margin he needed to win re-election.

Republicans skillfully attacked Obamacare in 2010 for its enormous cost, for the shameful process Democrats employed, for the outright budgetary gimmicks, for the odious provisions and for the legislative bribes required to pass the bill.

With public polls showing a slight majority favoring repeal, the 2012 election will be fought on much the same ground, with Republicans pursuing a legislative, public relations, judicial and ballot-referendum strategy on health care with the sole aim of winning back the White House and the Senate.

Matt Mackowiak is president of Potomac Strategy Group and recently managed the winning campaign of Bill Flores in the 17th Congressional District of Texas, toppling a 10-term incumbent.

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