The repeal litmus test

THE REPEAL LITMUS TEST…. The question of whether Republicans would prioritize repealing health care reform has come up from time to time this year. It’s not an especially complicated idea — GOP officials have worked to make reform as unpopular as possible. That way, if/when it passes, Democrats won’t enjoy the political benefits, and Republicans can run against it.

But as Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) conceded last week, repeal is trickier than it sounds.

Apparently, however, it’s too late for that. Newt Gingrich said on “Meet the Press” yesterday that “every Republican in 2010 and 2012 will run on an absolute pledge to repeal this bill.” The party’s right-wing base will apparently tolerate nothing less.

It’s now becoming clear that this could be a major issue for Republicans in 2010: the Tea Party movement, as well as high-profile conservatives, are going to demand that candidates call for a full repeal of the Dem healthcare reform bill, presuming it passes.

Multiple figures on the right are beginning to make this demand explicit. In an interview with me just now, Max Pappas, the Vice President for Public Policy of Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, said that if the bill passes, politicians should call for a full repeal.

“This has an unusual ability to be repealed, and the public is on that side.” he said. “The Republicans are going to have to prove that they are worthy of their votes.”

He emphasized that all the different parts of the bill fit together, and that Congress would need to try to repeal the whole thing.

I realize that right-wing activists aren’t especially fond of nuances and details, but the request doesn’t make much sense. Conservatives are making demands their friends won’t be able to meet.

There is, of course, the practical/procedural hurdle. The right would need a Republican president, working with a Republican House, and a 60-vote Republican majority. Crapo, hardly a moderate, called this a “very tall order.” He’s right.

But then there are the political hurdles. “Every” Republican candidate will pledge to repeal popular consumer protections? Caps on families’ medical expenses? Cost-containment measures? Deficit-reduction provisions? Subsidies for families who can’t afford coverage? I really doubt it.

But the demands nevertheless leave the GOP in a bind. Party leaders know they won’t be able to repeal the entire reform initiative, but the party’s base is making inflexible demands. Note, for example, that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dodged a question from Jake Tapper yesterday when asked (twice) whether “Republicans running for Senate in 2010 should run on a platform of vowing to repeal the healthcare reform bill.” After McConnell refused to say either way, RedState’s Erick Erickson was incensed.

Expect this to be a major point of contention in conservative circles for much of 2010.