GOP plans 'unrelenting' healthcare repeal effort, even after Senate defeat

Senate Republicans have vowed a sustained, unrelenting push to repeal President Obama’s healthcare reform law, despite falling short in their first effort Wednesday.

Republicans say they are not content to wait idly until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the healthcare law in 2012 or later.

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Instead, they will pursue a multi-pronged strategy to delay implementation of the law and repeal its most controversial provisions.

“We think it is just the beginning,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Wednesday evening after the Senate voted 47-51 along party lines to reject an amendment he offered to repeal the law.

“This issue is still ahead of us and we will be going back at it in a variety of ways,” McConnell added.

In addition to attempts to repeal various sections of the law, Republicans will attempt to block funding for its implementation when a stopgap spending measure funding government expires on March 4.

McConnell noted that Republicans blocked more than a million dollars in funding for healthcare reform that Democrats tried to include in a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill at the end of last year.

“You may recall that when we passed the continuing resolution to March 4, we deleted funding for additional bureaucrats to ramp up enforcement of ObamaCare,” McConnell said. “So we’ll be looking at it in every different way to revisit it.”

Republicans won a victory Wednesday when the Senate voted to strike down a requirement that businesses report all vendor payments exceeding $600 to the IRS.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) initially introduced the proposal to eliminate the so-called 1099 reporting requirement.

The Senate passed, by a vote of 81-17, an amendment similar to Johanns's offered by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Stabenow’s measure was slightly different in that it specified funds could not be taken from the Social Security Administration to offset the cost.

But some Republicans said it was a minor win.

“A real small piece of the badness was taken care of today — the 1099 — there are probably 2,000 more pieces of badness that could be gone after,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus.

“I believe there needs to be a sustained, unrelenting Republican effort to repeal this bill as written,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), senior Republican on the Budget Committee, who characterized Wednesday’s failed vote to repeal the law as a “first step.”

Senate Republican leaders will push a proposal sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to allow states to opt out of federal requirements to add millions of beneficiaries to Medicaid rolls.

Experts project the law could add 15 million to 23 million people to Medicaid, putting substantial pressure on state budgets.

“Medicaid is a real weak link” to this law, said Graham. “You’re going to have Democrat and Republican governors complaining about Medicaid expansion under the bill and how it will affect their states.

“The next debate is whether states should have a say about waivers for states,” Graham said.

Paul said he would like for GOP leaders to force a vote on repealing the individual mandate, which requires people to buy health insurance or pay a fine.

Republican leaders say they hope Democratic senators can be convinced to repeal other parts of the law in addition to the 1099 reporting requirement.

On Wednesday evening, McConnell declined to reveal the timing of the next healthcare-related vote he would attempt to force on the floor.

“I’ll let you know,” he quipped to reporters.

Another prong of the GOP strategy is to deny funding to implement the law.

Republican strategists say defunding efforts are likely to be more successful than amendments to repeal it. Repeal proposals would require the support of at least 20 Senate Democrats to overturn a presidential veto.

Blocking funding is much easier with Republicans in control of the House and 47 seats in the Senate.

“He can’t appropriate,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said of Obama. “Conversely, he has a lot more power when it comes to vetoing legislation he disagrees with.”

House Republicans plan to take the lead in the battle over funding. They are expected to deny the administration the necessary resources in the appropriations bill it passes for the rest of 2011 when the stopgap measure funding government expires next month.

House Republicans will also conduct aggressive oversight hearings of the administration in an attempt to slow implementation.

Cornyn said these hearings would highlight provisions of the law that are “problematic in the extreme.”

Even so, Republican senators acknowledge the Supreme Court offers the best chance for repealing the law.

“I really think much more of this battle is judicial now than it is legislative,” said Paul. “I’ve said the court case may end up being one of the most important court cases as far as restraining and restricting the size of government.

“It could be the most important ruling in a century,” he added.

Jason Millman contributed to this report.