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Although months of analysis had shown CLASS to be unsustainable, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota lacked traction when he tried to repeal the program last spring. But the administration seemed to be taking his side earlier this month when Mrs. Sebelius proclaimed the program unsustainable.

Making up the lost CLASS revenue stood in the way.

Last week, however, Mr. Obama announced that he would not support repealing CLASS, raising the question of whether Republicans could summon the political will. The same day, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced that it would treat CLASS as having no impact on the budget — effectively removing pressure to offset the $83 billion should Congress repeal the program.

The tale of CLASS illustrates the power of the balance sheet, which can help tip the political scales for or against laws depending on how they add up.

Mr. Thune is “actively looking” for ways to repeal the program, said spokeswoman AshLee Strong. He likely will be seeking the votes of the 12 Democrats and independents who supported an amendment to strip CLASS from the health care bill before it was ever passed.

One of those was Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, who told The Washington Times that he would vote to repeal CLASS, after Mrs. Sebelius‘ announcement.

“I think Secretary Sebelius has done the right thing,” said Mr. Lieberman, adding that he didn’t expect Mr. Obama to oppose repeal. “I was surprised at that since Secretary Sebelius said it wasn’t viable. I mean, maybe the president will come in with some ideas about how to fix it, but I just don’t think we can afford it.”

CLASS may fill in some slots on an otherwise vacant legislative calendar for health care repeal. Repeal remains an undercurrent in the presidential election, with all of the GOP candidates promising to overturn the law if elected. But for the most part, Republicans seem to be calling a truce as they peg their hopes on winning a majority in the Senate next year.

“We’re developing other bill packages, and timing is up to the leadership,” said Rep. Joseph R. Pitts of Pennsylvania, “but if we are successful in 2012, one of the first things we’ll do is act to repeal Obamacare.”

Paying for the health care law is a sensitive topic for Mr. Obama, who promised taxpayers that he would make sure it was funded. While he has trumpeted CBO projections that show the law decreasing the deficit, Republicans have charged that he relied on budget gimmicks.

Even without $83 billion from CLASS, the health care law would reduce the deficit by $127 billion over a decade, according to the CBO.

That is proof that Democrats didn’t continue supporting CLASS simply because it was lucrative, said Igor Volsky, with the Center for American Progress.

“The $83 billion is a nice bonus,” he said. “If you took it away and the law didn’t reduce the deficit, you would have a compelling argument. [But] I’m not sure it was all about the deficit.”