Senate GOP and conservative groups clash on healthcare reform repeal votes

Senate Republicans are clashing with conservative groups over whether to hold votes this year to repeal all of President Obama’s healthcare reform law.

One group, the Restore America’s Voice Foundation, plans to spend $50,000 to $100,000 per week on television ads pressing Senate Republicans to force a vote on repeal.

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“We’re going to ask our supporters in national television ads to get in touch with Republican senators and remind them what people want them to do,” said Ken Hoagland, chairman of Restore America’s Voice.

“If we have to stop trying to convince Democrats of the flaws of the law and pause for a moment to talk to Republican senators, that’s what we’ll do,” Hoagland said, emphasizing that the ad campaign would run nationwide. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, has resisted pushing for a repeal vote because the Senate Republican Conference is split on the issue.

Some members of his conference think that voting again on repealing all of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could give vulnerable Democrats political cover by allowing them to reverse their support for the law before the November election.

Last week, Hoagland said McConnell should resign as leader if he did not pledge to force a vote on a full repeal of the healthcare law. McConnell’s chief of staff has since assured Hoagland that his boss is fully committed to repeal.

Republican leaders might be hesitant to charge hard for repeal, analysts say, because it could hurt Mitt Romney, the GOP’s likely presidential nominee. Romney supported a similar healthcare reform law while serving as governor of Massachusetts. 

Two senators told The Hill that the Senate GOP leadership does not want to create a procedural stalemate over healthcare that will jeopardize the party’s ability to offer amendments on other issues, such as the Keystone XL pipeline and boiler-pollution regulations. 

Some GOP strategists think McConnell is worried about forcing Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) into a difficult vote. Brown is preparing for a difficult reelection race against Elizabeth Warren in the fall. 

A new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that a majority of the public opposes repealing the entire law, which includes popular provisions such as allowing children to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26 and prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.

The Kaiser survey found that 54 percent of respondents believe the law should be expanded or kept as is, while 37 percent want it repealed completely.

Conservative strategists say that Republicans need to make a stronger case for why the law should be repealed, and some doubt whether GOP leaders are fully committed to the cause.

“The American people and the conservative movement want to see votes every day on repealing ObamaCare. It continues to be unpopular. For Republicans to be too timid to force repeated votes on repealing ObamaCare is political malpractice,” said Brian Darling, senior fellow for government studies at the Heritage Foundation.

“Conservatives are not seeing leaders fight on issues they care about,” Darling said. “They feel like that’s a sign that Republicans are not committed to full repeal.”

Other groups that want Senate votes on full repeal include the Club for Growth and Americans for Tax Reform.

“We should have a vote on repealing ObamaCare every week,” said Andrew Roth, vice president of government affairs at the Club for Growth.

Senate Republicans said they will discuss strategies this week for elevating the profile of the healthcare reform debate. They are planning floor speeches and television and radio appearances later this month to coincide with Supreme Court hearings on the law. 

Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, said GOP leaders should push for votes on repealing the healthcare law in pieces and in its entirety.

“I tend to think that’s the right way to go,” he said.

Conservatives have put new urgency on congressional action as doubts grow about how the Supreme Court will rule on the law.

The high court’s justices have asked to be briefed on the Anti-Injunction Act, a law that prohibits courts from ruling on the legality of a tax until it has been collected. If the court determines the individual mandate to buy insurance is a tax, and abides by the Anti-Injunction Act, it could delay a decision until 2015.

Last year, McConnell authored an amendment to repeal the law, which the Senate rejected by a straight party-line vote of 51-47.

Some Republican lawmakers think it is not necessary to revisit the issue in 2012, but Norquist argues there is political benefit to freshening the debate before the election.

He said Republican senators have avoided voting on divisive issues in past election years and the strategy usually failed.

“I have convinced myself that there should be as many votes as possible on abolition,” he said.

Bruce Cain, a professor of political science at the University of California and director of UC’s Washington Center, said Republicans might want to downplay the healthcare issue if Romney is their presidential nominee.

“I think it is receding in large part because the most likely nominee has a mixed record on it. They’re going to nominate the one Republican that actually put into law something very similar to ObamaCare,” said Cain.

Cain said if repealing the healthcare law “is not a big deal in the presidential race, it’s going to be hard to make a big issue of it in congressional races.”

“I think the [congressional] leadership is probably right about this,” he said.

Cain noted that Romney has vowed to repeal the healthcare reform bill in his advertisements, but predicts he would prefer to campaign on the economy and other issues.

Democratic Party officials say they will try to drive a wedge between Romney and congressional Republicans on the issue.

“Mitt Romney’s 2009 support for a healthcare mandate highlights a fundamental problem for Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans — Romney can’t be trusted,” said a Democratic Party official.