Are Republicans Running Away From Their Repeal-Only Strategy for Obamacare?

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04: U.S. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) participates in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on a resolution on Syria on Capitol Hill September 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to authorize U.S. President Barack Obama to use limited force against Syria after adopting amendments from U.S. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-NV). 
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Scott Bland
Dec. 11, 2013, 3:52 p.m.

For most of this year, House Re­pub­lic­ans pur­sued a simple agenda for Obama­care: Re­peal it. Re­cently, party mem­bers have fo­cused more on how they might fix it — and Demo­crats are seiz­ing on some of their com­ments as proof that the GOP fears the polit­ic­al con­sequences of a re­peal-only strategy.

In a memo to be re­leased on Thursday ob­tained by Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily, Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or Kelly Ward high­lights re­cent moves by Re­pub­lic­ans that go bey­ond the strategy that led the House GOP to hold al­most 50 votes to re­peal Obama­care this year.

“Their deathbed con­ver­sion away from re­peal is the best in­dic­at­or yet that voters are go­ing to hold Re­pub­lic­ans ac­count­able as they be­gin to un­der­stand the #Cost­so­fRe­peal,” Ward wrote.

In the memo, Ward char­ac­ter­izes a slew of re­cent com­ments from Re­pub­lic­an of­fi­cials as proof that the GOP is try­ing to “run away” from its re­peal ef­forts, though it may just re­flect a stronger aware­ness of the polit­ic­al real­ity, but­tressed by the gov­ern­ment shut­down in Oc­to­ber, that Obama­care can’t be un­done while its name­sake is in the White House.

The memo also cites re­cent stor­ies quot­ing con­ser­vat­ives — like Sen. Ron John­son, R-Wis. in Na­tion­al Re­view — point­ing out the prac­tic­al dif­fi­culty of un­do­ing fa­cets of the law, like the state health in­sur­ance ex­changes, after they’ve been im­ple­men­ted.

Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee spokes­man Daniel Scarpinato dis­missed the idea that the GOP is put­ting re­peal on the back burn­er, or that it is un­pop­u­lar.

“This is just wish­ful think­ing on the part of Wash­ing­ton Demo­crats,” he said in an email. “Pres­id­ent Obama and House Demo­crats might be com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing Obama­care at all lengths, but our polling in con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts coast to coast shows that voters want to get rid of Obama­care al­to­geth­er and start over.”

Re­cent polling in­dic­ates that broad­en­ing Obama­care rhet­or­ic bey­ond re­peal might be pos­it­ive for Re­pub­lic­ans. A re­cent United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al poll put sup­port for re­peal at 38 per­cent, while Gal­lup put sup­port for full re­peal at 32 per­cent. Mean­while, sev­er­al re­cent polls have put Re­pub­lic­ans ahead of Demo­crats on a gen­er­ic House bal­lot.

While this mes­saging fight is mostly set­ting the stage ahead of the 2014 elec­tions, an in­tra-GOP re­peal-versus-fix battle looms more im­me­di­ately, too. The two lead­ing Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates to re­place the late Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Bill Young in the House have be­gun wrangling over the best ap­proach to Obama­care, Ward noted. Their spe­cial primary elec­tion is sched­uled for Jan. 14.

Dav­id Jolly, a former aide to Young, has said he wants to work to re­peal Obama­care start­ing on his first day in the House, and he is us­ing that po­s­i­tion to try to draw a con­trast with his op­pon­ent. State Rep. Kath­leen Peters, who is also run­ning for the GOP nom­in­a­tion, ex­plained her pref­er­ence dif­fer­ently at a re­cent can­did­ate for­um — while still cri­ti­ciz­ing the law, which she called “un­af­ford­able.”

“I do not think that we should take a stand and say, ‘Ab­so­lutely re­peal it,’” Peters said. “Not un­less we have a plan and a pro­pos­al to re­place it.”

Jolly has jumped on the com­ment, prom­ising to make it a cam­paign is­sue and com­par­ing Peters’s po­s­i­tion to that of Alex Sink, the likely Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee.

“For those of you that were at [the for­um] yes­ter­day, I think it be­came clear that there are two can­did­ates in this race who said they are against ab­so­lutely re­peal­ing Obama­care,” Jolly said at a cam­paign event, which was cap­tured on video. “Folks, I ab­so­lutely want to re­peal Obama­care.”

The same Gal­lup poll that showed why Re­pub­lic­ans might want to fo­cus on more than re­peal with voters in gen­er­al also demon­strated the po­ten­tial strength of Jolly’s po­s­i­tion in a primary set­ting: 68 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans sur­veyed said their pre­ferred op­tion on Obama­care was to “re­peal en­tirely.”

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