Full vs. partial vs. neither

FULL VS. PARTIAL VS. NEITHER…. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the incoming House Majority Leader, gave a speech in Virginia yesterday, assuring several hundred state GOP leaders that the party won’t “compromise” on its principles. According to a Roll Call report, Cantor also vowed to push “a full repeal of the health care reform bill.”

“Many in the press have asked all of us and have asked me as the next Majority Leader in Congress whether we’re actually going to work with President Obama next year. And my answer is: not if the President continues to support deficits into the trillions that will burden our children and theirs,” he said.

“If he continues to insist to support Obamacare that threatens to bankrupt this Commonwealth and this country,” Cantor continued, “we will all stand up and say no.”

Just at the surface level, it seems Cantor is still oddly confused. It was, after all, his Republican Party that created the budget mess in the first place. For that matter, the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit Cantor claims to be so worried about. Repealing it would make the budget mess worse, not better. After all this time and debate, even Cantor should be able to grasp these basic details.

But putting all of that aside, it’s interesting that Cantor spoke about “a full repeal,” at least according to the Roll Call report. Because just the other day, Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), who’s likely to chair the House Rules Committee in the next Congress, said a “full” repeal isn’t really the plan. He told NPR on Friday:

“We have said all along that we want to make sure that provisions there that are in fact beneficial in ensuring that people have access, without a huge expansion of government, we don’t want to repeal.”

The accuracy of this assessment depends on how Dreier defines “we.” Dreier, for example, signed a petition demanding a full repeal, which makes his remarks about what the position has been “all along” rather amusing.

But the inconsistency is much broader than just a couple of confused conservative lawmakers. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) told her fans earlier this year, “You better believe it, baby…. We’re about repealing all of Obama-care.” Around the same time, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) conceded, “We’re not gonna repeal everything.” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has demanded “100 percent repeal of Obamacare,” while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he’s really only interested in repealing the “egregious parts.”

This might get a little messy. The thinking all along has been that the Republican drive to gut the entire system may ultimately lead to a government shutdown, but it’s also worth watching to see the intra-party dispute among GOP officials themselves.

If I had to guess, I’d say the party’s far-right base won’t be pleased if Republicans only pursue a “partial” repeal. As Josh Marshall noted awhile back, “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.”

GOP leaders have put themselves in an awkward spot. Not only would they have to fight to repeal popular provisions Americans actually want, but they have to work around their own rhetorical record. Republicans who’ve characterized the law as “Armageddon” may grudgingly come to believe some parts of Armageddon may not be that bad after all.