Internal grumbling over Republican healthcare message intensifies

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are facing a mini-rebellion against their message on healthcare reform.

Every GOP lawmaker rejected the Democrats’ bill last month, but the party is now split on whether to call for a full repeal of the new law.

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Dozens of Republican lawmakers have signed on to bills that would repeal 100 percent of the health overhaul. The repeal effort on Capitol Hill is led in part by conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on the House side and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) in the upper chamber.

With Congress back in session next week, King and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) riled up supporters of an "ObamaCare" repeal at a campaign rally Wednesday afternoon. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who are considered possible 2012 presidential candidates, both attended the event in Minnesota.

King told The Hill on Tuesday that he intends to press his leadership to sign on to a call for a full repeal.

In the days following the enactment of Obama’s sweeping healthcare reform measure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed to pursue a “repeal and replace” strategy as lawmakers headed home for the Easter recess.

That has frustrated King and other conservatives.

“Sell the repeal idea. We can debate the replace idea. That’s what I would like to see our leadership do,” King said.

In a recent memo, Boehner listed eight items that the GOP conference would fight to repeal, but the Ohio lawmaker stopped short of calling for a full repeal.

President Barack Obama last month dared Republicans to campaign on a repeal message, urging them to “go for it.”

Democrats, including Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), have noted that the new law includes politically popular provisions that go into effect this year, including a $250 rebate for some Medicare beneficiaries.

Van Hollen told The Hill in an interview that the DCCC is keeping close track of which Republicans call for a repeal of the new health law.

Of the 15 senators co-sponsoring DeMint’s repeal bill, four are running for reelection this year. They include Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who is facing a tough primary race, and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

King asserts that Republican leaders need to be clear on what they would do on Obama’s health law if they took control of Congress.

“I talked to some of the leaders in the Tea Party groups, who ask to make sure that we define this repeal as 100 percent repeal. They are not going to have any patience with equivocation,” the lawmaker said.

But other Republicans do not share all of King’s criticisms on “repeal and replace.”

Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), who is facing a primary challenge, is open to endorsing "repeal, replace and reform" alternatives.

“I’m willing to run that high-octane level that Steve is running, but I know that people in the [GOP] conference that won’t want to run at that high-octane level. They want to repeal, but they want to make a statement about what they would do," Inglis said.

Three Republican bills to repeal “ObamaCare,” offered by Reps. Dan Burton (Ind.), Joe Wilson (S.C.) and Phil Roe (Tenn.), include language to replace parts of, or the entire, law.

King will not sign on to any legislation that would partially repeal the bill, in part because he believes it will divide Republicans.

“I didn’t want to confuse the message on repeal by adding the word ‘replace’ because there’s a question mark that hangs on ‘replace,’ which is, ‘What would you replace it with?’ and then the discussion gets drug down [sic] into something that all Republicans are not going to agree on,” King said.

That message was echoed by an aide to a like-minded GOP senator, who predicted that most Republican members running for reelection in 2010 would return from recess advocating a full repeal strategy after hearing from their constituents.

King and Inglis agreed that their leaders will soon have to address the issue by backing a legislative solution.


Neither Boehner nor his deputy GOP whip, Eric Cantor (Va.), has co-sponsored a bill that addresses the issue of repeal. But both leaders did sign the conservative Club for Growth’s petition to repeal the healthcare law, as did six GOP senators and 59 House Republicans.

Meanwhile, 67 GOP lawmakers and 283 candidates for office signed the Club’s pledge to “the people of my district/state to sponsor and support legislation to repeal any federal healthcare takeover passed in 2010, and replace it with real reforms that lower healthcare costs without growing government.”

Of the top three House Republicans, only GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) signed both the Club’s “Repeal It” pledge and co-sponsored King’s repeal bill.

A House GOP leadership aide explained that once leaders return from recess, they will discuss how to proceed, but there should be no question that they are committed to repealing the healthcare law.

“The message is simple. Republicans will fight to repeal this government takeover of healthcare and replace it with solutions focused on lower costs. As for next steps on legislation, the leaders will confer with our members and make those decisions,” the aide added.

King holds out hope he can convince Boehner to endorse his approach. He claimed that if Boehner can convince his colleagues to swear off earmarks — as the minority leader did last month — he can unify the GOP conference on repeal legislation.

King said, “It should be absolutely clear that if you can bring the conference to swear off earmarks, we can bring a resolution that every one of us is in favor of 100 percent repeal of ObamaCare and we can put a discharge petition down in a matter of a month.”