Republican Health Care Fratricide

by Jonathan Chait | June 30, 2010

One of the political benefits to Democrats of passing the Affordable Care Act, rather than following the crawl into a hole and die strategy urged upon them in all sincerity by Republicans, is that it shifted the debate to favorable terrain. Now Democrats are favoring the status quo, and Republicans are trying to pass a radical change. Indeed, now that the issue is repeal, it's Democrats who are united and Republicans who are divided, rather than the reverse.

The conservative base has settled on a strategy of repealing the Affordable Care Act with a simple, straight-up repeal vote, sponsored by Steve King (R-Alternative Universe.) The Republican leadership is supporting this drive, but they're also supporting a separate bill sponsored by Rep. Wally Herger to repeal health care and replace it with some Republican proposals. This is driving conservative activists nuts. Here is Erick Erickson:

If the GOP unites behind the Heritage effort on the King “Repeal Obamacare” bill, we actually have a chance of winning. 60% of Americans want this to happen, and numerous Democrats are gettable in this fight. The Herger “Repeal and Replace” bill has zero chance of passing, it will drive a number of GOP members away who don’t agree with this particular replacement bill and give Democrats an easy excuse to not sign onto the repeal movement. ...
Any Republican who signs on to the Herger discharge petition should be driven from office for betraying the “repeal” cause. This does nothing but provide cover to people who don’t really want to repeal Obamacare, just nibble at the edges.
And should the GOP take back Congress in November, we should remember this betrayal and the lies that go with it.

When the leadership of a party is failing to support the base's preferred strategy, you have to ask yourself why they're doing it. Erickson's argument is that the leadership could easily win the repeal vote but chooses not to because it's ideologically squishy. That is a common argument for the base to make. Given that the GOP leadership used every tool at its disposal to stop health care reform from passing, it's doubtful that the Boehner and Cantor are walking away from an easy path to health care repeal. More likely they're looking at polls that show that health care repeal is not very popular.

The latest Kaiser Foundation poll finds that 60% of Americans either support the ACA or prefer that it "be given a chance to work, with Congress making." Just 27% support repeal. The most recent NBC/WSJ poll asks:

And, would you be more likely to vote for (ROTATE) – a Democratic candidate for Congress who says we should give the new health care law a chance to work and then make changes to it as needed, or a Republican candidate for Congress who says we should repeal the new health care law entirely and then start over?

51% pick the Democrat, 44% pick the Republican. This was in a poll showing a plurality (45-43) preferring a Republican-controlled Congress. In other words, framing the election around health care repeal shifts the debate from +2 for the GOP to +7 for the Democrats. So, is the GOP leadership treading cautiously on health care repeal because they're squishes? No, it's because they want to win the election.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/75967/republican-health-care-fratricide