House Republicans aren’t expecting the third time to be a charm.
Having voted twice in the previous Congress for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, conservative lawmakers have successfully pushed for a third such vote on the House floor Thursday. Yet they are under no illusions about the ultimate outcome, realizing that while it may pass the lower chamber, it won’t be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Still, for Republicans who loathe the law they call “Obamacare,” it’s a great week to grandstand.
The admission by the Internal Revenue Service that it singled out conservative advocacy groups for intense scrutiny provides conservatives with what one Hill aide described as “fresh ammunition” to attack the 2010 health care law—especially given the critical role the IRS is expected to play in implementing and regulating the law.
The timing of the IRS admission, coming just days before the House will vote on the full repeal of a polarizing law the IRS will have a major role in enforcing, has conservative lawmakers and outside groups eager to talk.
“The same #IRS bureaucracy that wrongly targeted, harassed conservative groups is going to be running your healthcare,” Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., wrote on Twitter after the IRS news broke.
Hill aides say the IRS story won’t change the internal dynamic of the repeal vote; most Republicans will support it, and most Democrats will not. Rather, it raises new and relevant questions about the agency’s ability to implement and oversee a law that has faced harsh opposition from the same conservative citizens and groups it has now admitted to improperly investigating.
“They’re now going to be asking, ‘Who’s going to implement it? Who’s going to enforce it?’ ” said Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action, which has scored the previous two full-repeal votes. “You have an IRS that’s obviously politicized, and now they’re going to be tasked with a major part of the implementation?”
There have long been concerns among conservatives about the role IRS agents would be expected to play in enforcing the Affordable Care Act, going back to a House Ways and Means Committee report in 2009 that estimated more than 16,000 new IRS employees would be hired to implement the law. That figure was repeated by countless Republican politicians—including presidential candidates—over the next several years in illustrating how the health care law would drastically expand the size and scope of the federal government.
“The IRS ... will need $10 billion additional and 16,500 new IRS agents to police and enforce this mandate,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said on the House floor in 2010.
Though there have been several subsequent reports disputing that figure, there is no arguing the impact IRS agents will have. The IRS’s responsibilities will include informing small businesses of tax credits that are available for their insurance plans; verifying the income of persons filing to receive federal tax credits on their health care premiums; approving those tax credits; assessing tax penalties on individuals who do not purchase health care insurance; and assessing tax penalties on businesses that do not meet coverage requirements for their employees.
While it’s highly unlikely the IRS development will do anything to persuade Democrats to turn against their president’s signature legislative accomplishment, it’s worth monitoring whether this and other public embarrassments for the administration—such as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius soliciting implementation funds from industry officials—will move the needle on future efforts to tinker with the health care law.
Conservatives are quick to point out that, contrary to media reports, Thursday’s vote will be the third time the House will have considered a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act; the other three-dozen or so instances were partial repeal attempts aimed at rolling back specific provisions of the law. For any future attempt at partial repeal to succeed, Republicans will need the support of Senate Democrats, some of whom have already attempted to distance themselves from the law. That means GOP attempts this week to capitalize on the IRS’s embarrassing admission are less about generating immediate enthusiasm for a measure that’s certain to fail in the Senate, and more about chipping away at public support for a law Democrats will be forced to defend in 2014 and beyond.
This article appears in the May 14, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.