Harkin warns: No repealing or defunding healthcare reform on my committees

A well-placed Senate Democrat warned Thursday that efforts to scale back the new healthcare reform law will hit a brick wall in the upper chamber.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) — chairman of both the Senate Health Committee and the Appropriations health subpanel — said proposals to repeal or defund the reforms have little chance getting through the committees he heads.

“Republicans are seriously misreading this election if they claim a mandate to drag us back to the days of out-of-control health care spending and insurance company abuses and discrimination," Harkin said in a statement. "Ordinary Americans will not stand for it, and neither will I."

Coming from one of the architects of the healthcare law, Harkin's comments are no surprise. Still, they're a reminder that Republicans — who ran practically unanimously on a platform of repeal this election cycle — have a near-impossible road ahead to make good on that campaign promise.

Republicans are already acknowledging that full repeal is unlikely any time soon. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that Republicans "may not be able to bring about straight repeal in the next two years, and we may not win every vote against targeted provisions, even though we should have bipartisan support for some.” But, he added, party leaders will force Democrats "to defend this indefensible health spending bill."

The comments are some concession that full repeal will likely never happen. Under the new law, different provisions take effect gradually over the next decade, but many of the patient protections were front-loaded to start this year and next. As more consumers experience those benefits first-hand, it will become that much harder for critics to take them away.

Democrats, for their part, appear to recognize the GOP's dilemma.

"It is sad that senior Republicans are saying their No. 1 priority is to repeal the new health reform law and put health insurance companies back in the driver’s seat," Harkin said Thursday. 

"Frankly, I don’t think working Americans will stand for a Republican crusade to take away the benefits and protections in the new health reform law."