Preparing for a Potential Congressional Majority, Republican Leaders Say Repeal of Health-Care Law Tops Their Priorities
By NEIL KING JR. And JANET ADAMY
Eyeing a potential Congressional win in November, House Republicans are planning to chip away at the White House's legislative agenda—in particular the health-care law—by depriving the programs of cash.
Eyeing a win in November, House Republicans are planning to chip away at the White House's legislative agenda by depriving the programs of cash. Neil King discusses. Also, as gold reaches new historic highs, Brett Arends attempts to dispel some of the myths about the yellow metal.
The emerging plan has been devised in part to highlight the policy differences between the two main parties, especially over legislative achievements of the Obama administration that have proven unpopular with voters.
Republican leaders acknowledge many of these salvos will fail. At best, the party will gain a majority in the House and a razor-thin hold in the Senate in November's elections—short of what's needed to overcome a presidential veto. Analysts give the GOP a better shot at taking the House than the Senate.
But Republican lawmakers portray the anticipated drama as foreshadowing the far bigger brawl of the 2012 presidential elections and a clash of visions with President Barack Obama. A vote in the House to repeal the health-care overhaul would be among the GOP's top priorities.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), who could potentially chair the House budget panel, says the GOP must show it's 'serious about limiting government.'
Republican leaders are also devising legislative maneuvers that might have a bigger impact, using appropriations bills and other tactics to try to undermine the administration's overhaul of health care and financial regulations and its plans to regulate greenhouse gases. GOP leaders also hope to trim spending, return unspent stimulus funds and restore sweeping tax cuts.
Business groups have compiled lists of impeding regulations they hope to see stopped under a GOP House majority.
"We need to establish the proverbial lines in the sand and show we are serious about limited government," said Wisconsin's Rep. Paul Ryan, a leading conservative who is in line to chair the House budget committee if Republicans take control.
Democrats accuse the Republicans of wanting to return to the same policies that sparked the financial crisis and helped put the country into recession. Mr. Obama has labeled Republicans as wanting to "cut more taxes for millionaires and cut more rules for corporations."
The White House concedes that Congress's withholding funds would be a threat to the health-care law, but argues such a strategy could backfire with consumers, particularly if it threatened to nix popular provisions, such as allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance plans until they turn 26.
"What the Republicans will be faced with is really taking those benefits away," said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services. "They will have to face their constituents who have their children enrolled on a family plan and say, 'That can't happen anymore.'"
The Republican plan is still in flux. Much hinges on what happens in the final throes of the current Congress, especially in the fight over the Bush-era tax cuts. And a new crop of freshmen lawmakers will inject unpredictability into the ranks.
Some lawmakers, Mr. Ryan among them, fear factions within the party remain wedded to their free-spending ways under President George W. Bush. Others worry that renegades could push too far. Several GOP lawmakers and tea-party candidates have suggested imposing a government shutdown if Democrats block the overhaul efforts, a strategy party leaders reject.
Still, the Republican plans are more modest than those advanced in the party's 1994 "Contract with America," which included a balanced-budget amendment and promises to overhaul welfare, court sentencing and tort law.
In a nod to the 1994 contract, Minority Leader John Boehner and other top Republicans plan to unveil more initiatives in coming weeks. One will be a requirement, pushed by tea-party activists, that all legislation cite its constitutional authority.
"This is all about the art of the doable," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, one of eight Republicans on the White House's debt commission. "Is saving the country from bankruptcy a matter of doing or undoing? I think it's a mixture of both."
At its core, the GOP plan will focus on spending and whittling away the health-care law, the Democrats' landmark achievement, which extends insurance to 32 million Americans. House Republicans say a full repeal would pick up a few Democratic votes, but acknowledge the effort would fail in the Senate.
Instead, they plan other means to chip away at it, by trying to choke off appropriations funding for key pieces, since House approval is required to pass such spending.
Republican congressional aides and advisers say their focus would including blocking funding to hire new Internal Revenue Service agents, who are needed to enforce the law's tax increases. They also would consider barring spending for a new board that approves Medicare payment cuts as well as on research that compares the effectiveness of medical procedures.
Other potential targets include funds to pay for a long-term care insurance program and money to help states set up insurance exchanges where consumers will be able to use tax credits beginning in 2014.
"By having the capacity to block funding for it, you get to very much shape how it turns out," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a director of the Congressional Budget office under Mr. Bush.
Republicans would also bring to a vote measures that attack the law's least popular parts, including the requirement that most Americans carry health insurance and cuts to payments for privately run Medicare plans. Such other stand-alone bills would struggle to get through the Senate. But House Republicans say they will bring them to the floor anyway to pave the way for a broader attack on the health law should they recapture the White House in 2012.
Much of the $938 billion bill is effectively on a glide path, a fact that works against the Republican plan, and many provisions don't begin until 2014. That's when lower-earners will start getting tax credits to offset the cost of insurance and states will expand their Medicaid programs.
Some Republican aides and advisers say if Republicans controlled the House, they could wedge wide-ranging provisions into appropriations bills that would choke off future funding for the core of the law. Others caution that Senate Democrats wouldn't sign off on anything too expansive, and that Republicans may have power over about $100 billion in implementation spending.
Finally, House Republicans say they would offer up new provisions that amount to a replacement of the law, another largely symbolic tactic. Based on a bill the party offered during the health-care debate, those measures would likely aim to curb medical malpractice lawsuits, loosen restrictions on selling insurance across state lines and expand of high-risk insurance pools to extend insurance to those with a pre-existing health condition.
With Republicans touting job creation as the party's main focus, it's not likely the House would devote time to advancing such new measures until the economy improves.