After three months of unrelenting attack, Republicans have succeeded in chipping away small pieces of the health care law.
The unpopular 1099 tax provision is officially gone, with the president’s signature on H.R. 4 on Thursday, and the 2011 continuing resolution stripped $2 billion from a co-op insurance program in the health law.
But Republicans are not finished yet, says House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Vice Chairman Michael Burgess of Texas.
Just ask him if the 2011 continuing resolution ended efforts to defund or repeal the health law. “I would say ‘au contraire,’ ” Burgess told National Journal in an interview.
“The fact that you didn’t get everything that you might have wanted is not surprising. But you did get some. So that gives us, I think, the vehicle to come back and really try to go after some of the larger parcels of dollars,” Burgess said.
Burgess has been one of the GOP's toughest examiners during the myriad health care hearings in the Energy and Commerce Committee. Fellow Republicans often yield him their extra time so he can direct one or two more pointed, researched questions to administration officials. His persistence sometimes pays off, and he has gotten a rare response or two from agency officials.
But Burgess, a tea party advocate, also has an independent streak. He was the only Republican in the 111th Congress to vote with House Democrats to permanently fix the flawed sustainable-growth rate formula that determines what Medicare pays doctors. It’s an issue close to Burgess’s heart because he was a practicing ob-gyn for nearly 30 years.
Burgess was also vocal about fully defunding the health law through the 2011 budget resolution, despite the House Republican leadership’s distaste for such efforts. Burgess was not as public figure in attempts to strip the health law of funds as Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, but he pointed to behind-the-scenes negotiations.
“Some of us pushed and pushed and pushed on that, and the pushback we got in the early debate of the CR was, ‘Hold the phone, this is mandatory spending. We can’t do mandatory on discretionary bills,’ ” Burgess said. “Of course, my constituents don’t understand that.”
Burgess added that he would be “blistered,” if he were to try and explain back home why mandatory spending adjustments cannot be done on discretionary spending bills.
“I think the fact that you got some roll back of the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act in the CR is good news.”
But good news isn’t enough to satisfy Burgess and probably many other tea partiers. When asked if the individual bills to repeal pieces of the health law would be used as bargaining chips on upcoming votes to raise the debt limit, Burgess gave a trademark sly answer.
“Your words, not mine. Obviously there’s a lot of stuff in flux as far as that’s concerned.”
He added that passing bills to repeal pieces of the law helped to push Republicans closer to their ultimate goal of repealing the health care law. “It does help that that wall, that barrier has been breached,” Burgess said.
On Wednesday, the House voted 236-183 to strip a $17 billion pot of money for prevention efforts. The chamber is expected to follow that up after the recess with a vote to repeal HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's authority to give states money for insurance exchanges until 2015.
“Are there other places that might come up?” Burgess asked. “ Yes. And if it’s not on the debt limit, if it’s on appropriations bills during the summer, there are various places where those opportunities will exist. And every time they exist, yes, I want to be able to exploit that.”
This article appears in the April 15, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.