Bring on the repeal fight

BRING ON THE REPEAL FIGHT…. In early January, when health care reform looked like a sure thing, one of the major topics of conversation in Republican circles was focused on repealing the package in 2011. The talk quickly evaporated after Massachusetts’ special election, when it appeared reform was on the brink of collapse.

I guess reform’s odds are getting better — Republicans are back to talking about repeal again.

Republicans will campaign on repealing Democrats’ healthcare bill this year, a member of the Senate GOP leadership said Monday.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the third-ranking Senate Republican and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said his party would head into this year’s midterm elections with a pledge to repeal the healthcare bill before Congress.

“I think that’s exactly right,” Alexander said during an interview on Fox News when asked if Republicans would spend all of 2010 on a campaign to repeal healthcare reform.

This will, no doubt, be well received among far-right activists. In January, for example, the right-wing Club for Growth launched a “Repeal It!” campaign, which included urging Republican congressional candidates to sign a pledge vowing to “sponsor and support” legislation to repeal the reform package.

As a practical matter, this is all pretty silly. Unless Republicans suddenly get supermajorities in both chambers and convince President Obama and Vice President Biden to step down, making room for President Boehner, repeal is impossible.

But let’s put that aside. The assumption that repeal is a political winner for the GOP is faulty, too.

Remember, while several provisions of the health care reform initiative wouldn’t kick in until 2014, some really popular measures would kick in almost immediately. Consumers would have all kinds of new protections, including a ban on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, the elimination of rescissions, a ban on annual or lifetime caps, etc.

Indeed, I’ve long believed that an aggressive repeal push from Republican activists and the Tea Party crowd is something Dems should welcome, not fear. It’s a compelling pitch to voters: “Know those new protections that just became law? Republicans want to take them away.”

Some GOP candidates are willing to back a partial repeal, in part because they know parts of the package are popular, and in part because they realize that total repeal is practically impossible. But for the right-wing base, partial isn’t good enough. As Josh Marshall noted recently, “After all, if it’s really the end of the universe, America and Apple Pie, as Republicans have been suggesting, it’s hard to say you just want to tinker at the margins.”

It puts Republican candidates in a box. Democrats are going to ask, “Are you really going to fight to repeal protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions?” If Republicans say “no,” they alienate the GOP activists who will settle for nothing but a full repeal. If Republicans say “yes,” they alienate the mainstream electorate.

Of course, the only way to set the repeal trap is to pass the damn bill.