GOP governors poised to play key role in healthcare battle

As newly-elected Republican governors plot ways to push back against the healthcare law, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) is preparing an organized effort aimed at helping governors fight the law's implementation.

In an interview with The Ballot Box, new RGA Executive Director Phil Cox said he anticipates the committee will play a central role in organizing GOP governors against the law — an effort he said is currently in the planning stages.  

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"I know those discussions are already taking place," said Cox. "I wouldn't be surprised if we have a more formal and organized effort soon." 

Twenty states are already challenging the constitutionality of the law in court, targeting the provision requiring individuals to purchase health insurance. Newly-elected Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) announced Monday his state would join that lawsuit

In another legal challenge, led by officials in Virginia, a federal judge recently ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional — a decision the federal government is appealing, with the expectation the case will eventually end up before the Supreme Court.   

Aside from the legal efforts, there are a handful of other approaches states could take to stymie implementation of the law. Governors could slow down the process in some key areas, push for state legislators to adopt changes in implementation, or lean on attorneys general or state insurance commissioners.

There are no details yet on whether there are specific approaches the RGA would take, but Cox said the goal is to ensure that Republican governors are "speaking with one powerful voice" on healthcare and other legislative issues.

In Congress, House Republican leaders plan a vote to repeal healthcare next Wednesday, but it is seen as being largely symbolic given that full repeal has little chance at making it through the Democratic-controlled Senate. 

Regardless of how the RGA's effort shapes up, one potential GOP presidential hopeful is certain to play a leading role. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the outgoing chairman who helped raise record amounts of money for the committee this past cycle, is now the RGA's policy chairman — a newly created position.

In that capacity, Barbour will be a high-profile liaison of sorts between GOP governors and the party's leadership in Washington.

Cox, who managed Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's (R) successful campaign in 2009 and served as an adviser to the committee in the last cycle, takes over for outgoing RGA Executive Director Nick Ayers.

Ayers has led the committee since 2007, winning praise from strategists for helping overhaul the RGA's fundraising operation and strategic direction. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the committee's new chairman.

Much of the strategy Ayers pushed — including what Cox calls "ruthless targeting" — will carry over to 2011 and beyond. Unlike past cycles, Ayers and the RGA doled out money more selectively to gubernatorial contenders over the past two cycles than in the past, focusing energy and resources where the committee saw the greatest opportunity.  

Three gubernatorial races loom in 2011 — Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky — followed by another 11 in 2012. 

Cox said he's confident Republicans will go three for three this year and then look to further expand their majority of governorships come 2012.