By Alexander Bolton - 03/01/12 10:30 AM EST
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) told his colleagues this week that he does not want to vote again on repealing President Obama’s healthcare reform law until after the November elections.
The GOP’s game plan on healthcare is politically sensitive because influential conservative activists have called for repeated votes on repeal. But many Republicans on Capitol Hill want to focus on other issues in the coming months, most notably gas prices and the economy.
Members of the Senate GOP conference are split on the issue. Conservatives such as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) claim they should remind voters they are committed to repealing the $930 billion initiative.
Other GOP lawmakers say they are already on record in favor of repeal and believe another vote is not needed.
During a private lunch meeting on Tuesday, McConnell argued that forcing a vote on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would give vulnerable Democrats a chance to vote for it and provide them with political cover heading into the election, according to senators who attended and requested anonymity.
“[McConnell] said that we had a debate on it and everyone is on the record. He said some Democrats might vote for the amendment and it would give them cover in an election year,” said a GOP senator.
McConnell’s office declined to comment for this article.
All 47 members of the Senate Republican Conference voted in February of 2011 to repeal the law. Not a single Democrat voted for it. Republicans vowed at the time to seek additional votes while pointing out they also wanted to replace the law.
“This fight isn’t over,” McConnell said last year in the wake of the Senate vote.
Yet Republicans in both the House and Senate have not sought votes on what would replace Obama’s healthcare overhaul. They have instead adopted a piecemeal approach, seeking to dismantle the law in stages.
Last year, Republicans successfully waged a fight to repeal a controversial provision known as the 1099 reporting requirement, which had mandated that small businesses identify vendors receiving more than $600 in payments.
There is also a bipartisan effort to scrap a controversial payment advisory board that was included in the law.
The Senate on Thursday is scheduled to vote on an amendment sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would let employers opt out of regulations promulgated under the law that violate their religious or moral beliefs.
Regardless, some Republicans do not favor McConnell’s approach.
DeMint, a member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, said the Blunt measure is “just one aspect of ObamaCare. We need to keep reminding people that this bill is going to continue to intrude on our freedoms.
“We should take every chance to remind people the government is going after the Catholic Church and unless we repeal the whole thing, we’re going to keep getting this dribble of things, one after another,” he said.
He believes it is important for Republicans to repeatedly “connect the dots” between the healthcare reform law and new regulations, such as the recent one mandating coverage of contraception.
McConnell may also want to shield his Senate GOP colleagues from voting to repeal popular portions of the healthcare law, such as the provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26 or another barring insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.
While the healthcare law as a whole is unpopular, Obama has repeatedly mentioned those provisions in recent speeches.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another member of the Tea Party Caucus, said the Senate should vote again on repealing the healthcare law, which helped spawn the Tea Party movement.
“It would be a good idea to have it,” said Paul. “In the last five years it’s one of the biggest issues of contention. It’s a big momentous issue we’re talking about on the Supreme Court level, so I think it would be useful to get everybody on record on it again.”
“I doubt any Democrats will vote for repeal,” Paul added.
“They’re already on record so many times as being for it. They could always say they voted for it before they voted against it.”
Over the last couple of years, conservatives outside of Congress have publicly called on GOP leaders not to let up.
In 2011, talk-show host Rush Limbaugh said congressional Republicans should “keep making these people defend this horrible, rotten piece of legislation. This is not a show thing; this is not one time. This is an overall effort to get rid of this.”
“We should have vote on repealing ObamaCare every week,” said Andrew Roth, vice president of government affairs at the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group. “Ahead of the Supreme Court decision, we need to routinely make the case that ObamaCare needs to be repealed.”
One lawmaker who spoke on background said McConnell is concerned that repeated efforts to force votes on amendments to repeal healthcare reform will lead to procedural stalemate with Democrats.
The senator said McConnell wants to schedule votes on other GOP-sponsored amendments on energy and jobs. McConnell, the senator said, anticipates that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would shut down those opportunities if Republicans insist on votes to repeal healthcare reform.
Some of the healthcare law’s biggest critics in the upper chamber do not think another vote is necessary.
“People are on record,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), one of McConnell’s deputies.
“When we had the vote, you saw the result,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a Tea Party lawmaker.