Republicans confidently predict their drive to repeal health care reform will motivate conservatives, energize donors and drive voters to the polls this fall. The strategy makes some sense: Coming off a stinging defeat, it's an effective way to channel their energies against a new law the public hasn't fully embraced.
But if Republicans are right, why are Democrats more aggressively pushing the storyline this week? Because apparently they welcome the newest chapter of this yearlong debate: a specific discussion of exactly what Republican health care reform looks like.
This week, the DSCC started circulating a "Repeal Scorecard" tracking the move.
Top Republicans in nearly every competitive Senate race now say they support some form of repeal; GOP candidates in most top House races do as well. That sets the stage for "repeal" to become a big part of the party's campaign mantra this fall.
Still, a clear divide is brewing between Republicans who back the full repeal sought by the conservative Club for Growth and those who prefer a more nuanced plan that would retain some of the law's more popular elements. Congressional Republicans readily acknowledge their hope to raise loads of campaign money from donors who oppose the new law, but Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, won't go as far as many of his GOP House candidates on the issue. "Do I think this vote helped us with raising money? Yes I do.... [But] I would be hard pressed to say repeal the whole thing," he told the Daily Caller on Sunday night. In an interview with the Huffington Post on Tuesday, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair John Cornyn echoed his fellow Texan's comments, calling full repeal a "distraction."
In fact, it's Sessions' Democratic counterpart who speaks more unequivocally about the GOP's repeal effort.
"I don't often quote George W. Bush... but bring it on," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Chris Van Hollen.
In an interview Tuesday, the Marylander said his party will portray the GOP's repeal effort as a campaign against provisions of the law that take effect immediately and are widely popular with voters, including small-business tax credits and provisions against denying insurance to children with pre-existing conditions.
"People will begin to see the benefits. If [Republicans] push 'repeal,' they'll be siding with the insurance industry against consumers and patients who receive protections and benefits from this legislation," Van Hollen said. "They say 'repeal it,' but for the eight years that Bush was in the White House, they didn't do anything. If people really want to turn back the clock... they can choose Republicans. But I don't think that's the future most Americans want."
Senate Democrats are even more bullish about the GOP's repeal drive. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was ahead of the curve, first issuing a repeal challenge to Republicans in December. This week, the committee started circulating a "Repeal Scorecard" tracking the move.
"I'm happy to see all my Republican colleagues and candidates saying they're for it," DSCC Chair Robert Menendez of New Jersey told me Tuesday, listing the same benefits offered in the new law. "The bottom line is that all the apocalyptic things they said would happen didn't happen. And all the great things that will happen in 2010, they're going to have to look people in the eye and say 'I'm going to take that away from you.' If that's what they think sells with voters, we're all for it."
Cornyn wasn't available this week to discuss his party's repeal strategy. But a spokesman said Democrats are heading for defeat if they deny the appeal. "Recent history supports our side," said NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh. "They employed the same spin on the stimulus as well, and look at how that's worked out for them politically."
Late Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sought to amend his party's "repeal" mantra. "The slogan will be, 'Repeal and replace. Repeal and replace,'" McConnell told reporters. "No one that I know in the Republican Conference in the Senate believes that no action is appropriate. We all think there are things that should be done."
Asked about McConnell's comments, Menendez sounded almost like a... Republican. "It would be great," he said, "to see how they're going to pay for it all."