- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2010

They’ll fight it in the courts. They’ll fight it in the states. They’ll fight it at the polls in November and in 2012. While Democratic leaders hailed the House vote Sunday night and the likely Senate passage of a companion “reconciliation” bill, Republicans insisted that the war over health care is far from over.

“This will not stand,” a defiant Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and architect of the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress, told The Washington Times in an interview. “We should challenge every candidate in 2010 and 2012 to be for repeal.”

“The people I represent in the state of Arizona are not going to sit still for this. They’re going to want this repealed,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. “We will challenge this in the towns, we will challenge this in the cities, we will challenge this in the farms. We will challenge this all over America.”

President Obama on Tuesday morning is set to sign the bill approved Sunday night by the House, and plans a trip to Iowa on Thursday to tout the legislation’s benefits and build political momentum. Separately, the Senate on Tuesday formally takes up a second bill of “fixes” to the first bill, with the Democratic majority using a procedural route to sidestep a GOP filibuster.

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But Republicans in Washington and beyond the Capital Beltway vowed to fight on.

In Utah, several GOP governors met Monday to discuss ways to block the implementation of key parts of Mr. Obama’s health care plan even after it becomes law. Among their options: a constitutional challenge to mandates in the bill that all citizens and legal residents must purchase health insurance.

“If Congress goes ahead with this financial and economic insanity, which is unconstitutional, then we’ll sue,” Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter told The Times on its “America’s Morning News” radio show Monday.

On Capitol Hill, GOP lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced bills to repeal what Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota called “the Democrats’ government takeover of health care.” The move came just hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed through the vote late Sunday night at the close of an often raucous House debate.

A number of GOP strategists suggested that Republican candidates this fall will run on a platform of repeal. Polls were already projecting significant Republican gains in Congress and in statehouses even before health care reform was passed.

“Let’s fire Nancy Pelosi,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said in a fundraising e-mail sent to party donors Monday, suggesting that big GOP gains in November could cost the California Democrat the House speaker’s gavel.

The House Republican campaign organization this week was already preparing an ad highlighting the health care vote.

“After all this wheeling and dealing, we still have a cost-raising, tax-increasing bill,” the ad’s announcer intones. “Stop the madness.”

The Republican Governors Association on Monday said that Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster and Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett — all candidates for governor — are among the state attorneys general expected to join a lawsuit challenging the law.

Pollster John Zogby predicted that the bill’s passage has set the scene for an “ideological war, the like of which we have rarely seen in the U.S.”

Many top Republicans argue that the public is on their side.

Republican Governors Association Chairman Haley Barbour of Mississippi said he hopes the health care legislation “covers hearing aids, because it’s clear Democrats who voted for it have not heard the majority of Americans who didn’t want government-controlled health care crammed down their throats.”

Democrats have acknowledged the political headwinds in the long struggle to win passage of the health care bill, but argue that Mr. Obama and Democratic candidates can now pivot to tout the reform’s benefits with seven months to go until Election Day.

“I think that as we get away from the back-and-forth of a legislative floor debate and examine what is in the bill and how it affects families and small businesses and seniors. … I think the president believes that more [people] will see the benefits that he saw in making sure this legislation becomes law,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said voters will soon start to see elements of the health care bill that they like, pointing to funding to help seniors buy prescription drugs and a ban on insurance companies denying customers for “pre-existing” medical conditions.

“People are now, some of them for the first time, realizing all the good things that are in this bill, because we’re going to be able to start clearing away the smoke and clutter and misinformation that was put out there,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill.

But Republicans wasted no time in going on the attack, singling out pro-bill Democrats they will go target either in primaries or the November midterm elections.

Even before Sunday’s night’s vote, National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh pointed to Rep. Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, looking to succeed retiring fellow Democrat Evan Bayh in a hotly contested Senate race this fall.

His decision to back the health care bill is “Ellsworths first introduction to Hoosier voters statewide,” Mr. Walsh noted, at a time when polls show Indiana residents oppose the bill by a 60 percent to 37 percent margin.

Idaho’s Mr. Otter said he would like to have taken action Monday, but that governors need to huddle with their lawyers and attorneys general before they can “advance and enumerate every grievance.”

But at least one conservative Republican governor said he had resigned himself to the new reality created by Sunday’s House votes.

“I’d like to believe a mistake this enormous can be corrected, but I admit to being discouraged,” Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told The Times. “My efforts will be aimed at figuring out how Indiana will adjust to the enormous damage this bill will do.”

One of the biggest irritants to Republicans and conservatives in and out of government is what many of them say is an unconstitutional requirement that all Americans buy health insurance or be hit with stiff fines - considered by many as a step on the road to a fully socialist health care system in America.

Mr. Otter signed a measure last week allowing the state government to sue the federal government if it begins forcing residents to buy insurance. Virginia and 35 other states are considering similar legislation.

The health care debate is virtually certain to play out in tight races across the country. Some GOP challengers wasted no time in going on the offensive.

Jim Renacci is a Republican seeking to oust Rep. John Boccieri in a key swing district in Ohio. Mr. Boccieri has been a particular focus for all sides because he was one of a number of Democrats who switched from opposing the bill when the House voted in November to supporting it Sunday night.

By “joining Nancy Pelosi and serving as one of the deciding votes in passing the Obama-Pelosi health care takeover, John Boccieri has demonstrated unconscionable indifference to the will and the well being of his own constituents,” Mr. Renacci said in a statement.

“With new voices and new leadership in Congress, we can very soon begin the process of righting the wrongs of today and returning our government back to the American people,” he said.

Kara Rowland, Jennifer Haberkorn and Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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