Friday, March 26, 2010

Republicans Risk Sour Grapes Label With Talk of Repeal

By Stuart Rothenberg

Hold the phone, Martha. Congressional Republicans may give Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Barack Obama a big present with a beautiful bow wrapped around it.

Apparently unaware that Americans who strongly oppose the Democratic health care overhaul are already poised to vote Republican in November, many GOP officeholders and candidates have decided to focus their energy on repealing the recently enacted law.

Even before the Democratic bill passed the House, some Republican campaigns unleashed a blizzard of e-mails promising to repeal the measure.

Within 24 hours of the bill’s passage I had received “repeal” e-mails from New York Congressional hopeful Chris Cox, Missouri Congressional candidate Bill Stouffer, Kansas Congressional candidate Wink Hartman, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, Arizona Congressional hopeful Jim Ward, Connecticut Senate candidate Rob Simmons, Texas Congressional candidate Quico Canseco, Wisconsin Senate hopeful Terrence Wall, Arizona Congressional candidate Jesse Kelly, Arkansas Senate wannabe Gilbert Baker and New Hampshire Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte.

No, that’s not the whole list. But you get the gist.

Some of these Republicans are in primaries or in rabidly anti-Obama states, so there is at least some logic to their calls. And, admittedly, some of the e-mails are little more than frantic, over-the-top fundraising letters aimed at tapping the anger among conservatives directed at the law. Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) e-mail is an obvious case in point.

But for others, calling for repeal of the law moments after the bill’s passage is a statement of ideological faith, a rallying cry for conservatives who never liked the bill and wish it had never passed.

On Sunday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) posted on his Web site that he would introduce a bill this week repealing “President Obama’s government takeover of health care.”

“Unless this trillion-dollar assault on our freedoms is repealed, it will force Americans to purchase Washington-approved health plans or face stiff penalties. It will fund abortions, raise taxes and insurance premiums, while reducing health care choices and quality,” the Senator wrote.

“This arrogant power grab proves that the President and his party care more about government control than the will of the American people. Americans told Washington to keep its hands off their health care in opinion polls, at public protests, and at the ballot box, but their pleas were ignored.”

Not to be outdone, on Monday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the mere mention of whose name can send Democratic true believers into cardiac arrest, posted on, a conservative Web site, that she had already “filed legislation to repeal Obamacare in hopes that we can start from scratch and give the American people true health care reform that won’t break the bank nor rob us of our individual liberty and freedom.”

OK. We get it. They didn’t like the bill and don’t like the law. And they voted against it. Fine.

But trying to refight the last war, on the same battlefield and with the same forces, isn’t dedication; it’s political stupidity.

Obviously, repeal is not possible now with Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, and by demanding repeal, Republicans look like a bunch of spoiled children who didn’t get their way rather than adults focused on fixing a problem. Voters won’t like that.

From a political point of view, it’s an amateurish mistake. In fact, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been goading Republican candidates into taking a stand on repeal for months, understanding the damage that Republicans could do to themselves by making the midterm elections a referendum on themselves, instead of on the president and Congress.

That doesn’t mean Republicans should forget about health care, of course.

Polling has long shown that the public isn’t crazy about the law (forget the quick post-passage polls that reflect short-term events), and as long as Republicans don’t make their quest for repeal into this cycle’s version of the Clinton impeachment zoo, the GOP stands to benefit from the issue in many states and districts this fall.

Now that the bill has been enacted into law, Republican political leaders and candidates should talk about the overhaul’s problems and relate those problems back to the public’s larger concerns, whether growing debt, higher taxes or government intrusion into people’s lives. But talking about the law’s ramifications and keeping the focus on the Democrats’ performance is very different than ranting about repeal.

More importantly, Republicans probably shouldn’t forget what Democrats unwisely did forget for a year — that Americans care more about jobs than anything else.

The 2010 elections are likely to be about jobs and the economy, and that’s what Republicans should be talking about as they criticize the Obama administration and Democratic Congress, whether they are talking about health care, cap-and-trade or the 2009 economic stimulus bill.

By demanding repeal immediately after passage, Republicans resemble unsuccessful candidates who keep challenging election results and refuse to concede. Voters don’t like candidates who sound like sour grapes, and they won’t like a party that sounds that way either.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on March 25, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.