GOP to renew attack on healthcare reform

The 2012 election year will see a sustained Republican push to repeal the healthcare reform law in bits and pieces, members of both parties say.

The new House majority’s first major legislative effort back in January was a highly publicized party-line vote to repeal the whole law, a bill that, predictably, foundered in the Senate.

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Now, however, Republicans plan to focus on two provisions of the reform that could put Democrats, and the president, in a tougher bind as the election approaches — the Independent Payment Advisory Board and the CLASS Act.

The goal is to keep the spotlight on other controversial aspects of the healthcare law while the Supreme Court rules on the unpopular individual mandate. Republicans see this as a winning strategy, and appear to be supported in this assessment by the latest Kaiser Health tracking polls. They show the law continues to be unpopular, with 44 percent of Americans saying they have a negative view of the law versus 37 percent who support it.

Democrats say they know healthcare reform will be re-litigated all over again in 2012, and welcome the challenge.

“This won’t be settled until after the next election. [Republicans] are going to keep coming after [the law],” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). “I think that’s going to be beneficial for us, because more and more people in America are seeing the benefits of the healthcare act [such as] elderly people who are now getting their annual check-ups.”

One prominent GOP bill is an effort to repeal what critics of the law refer to as its Medicare “rationing board.”

Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), the lead sponsor of legislation to strike down the law’s Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), told The Hill this week that his bill won’t get a vote in the final couple weeks of this session.

With 212 co-sponsors — including 12 Democrats (retiring Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank signed on just this week) — Roe acknowledged that keeping the bill out there until closer to the election, for the purpose of hammering Democrats, might make for good politics.

“I won’t deny that,” he said with a chuckle.

Democrats say the IPAB, which calls for cuts to provider payments if they increase too fast, is specifically prohibited from rationing care. President Obama called for strengthening the board as part of deficit negotiations.

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Separately, the House is still moving full speed ahead this year with efforts to repeal the law’s long-term care CLASS Act. House leadership says it still hopes to bring repeal legislation to the floor in the next couple of weeks, but the Senate is unlikely to pick it up, starting a whole new repeal effort next year.

The administration has said it can’t make the CLASS program work “at this time,” leaving congressional Democrats facing a potential lose-lose situation: vote for repeal and implicitly acknowledge that their health law contained a fatally flawed program; vote against, and open up to criticism that they’re in denial. 

“It puts the Democrats in a very difficult position,” Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.), the bill’s sponsor, told The Hill recently. “They have to decide whether they’re going to do the fiscally responsible thing and repeal the program or support something that is fiscally irresponsible.”