GOP tactics on ObamaCare move away from full repeal



Republicans are shifting their tactics on ObamaCare, an abrupt change from the party’s repeal-only rhetoric that dominated the last five years of debate.

The GOP is coalescing around the idea that incremental changes, rather than a sweeping repeal effort, can be more appealing to voters — while also holding out the possibility of hollowing out the law from within.

In the past, some conservatives objected to any ObamaCare bills that fell short of full repeal. They argued it was impossible to fix the flawed legislation by doing anything other than fully repealing it.

No more.

When the newly GOP-controlled Senate votes on its first anti-ObamaCare legislation in the next few weeks, none of its members is expected to block the bills, according to aides and lobbyists familiar with discussions.

“I’m guessing that they’ve had this ‘squirrel finds a nut’ moment of reasonableness,” one Senate GOP aide said.

The party remains far from consensus on how to handle the law, but threats from the its far-right members have largely faded as members look to show a GOP Congress can govern ahead of 2016, when the party hopes to retake the White House.

“If we can show that we can lead, we might get an even bigger majority in 2016. We might get the White House,” the aide said. “Republicans can say, ‘See, we were right? Put us in charge, and we’ll repeal the whole damn thing.’ ”

The change in tone can be seen even among hard-line Republicans, including Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE (R-Texas), who recently said he wanted to fix the “most onerous” pieces of the Affordable Care Act.

“There used to be an argument pretty prevalent on the Hill: They’re not going to do anything to fix Obama’s problem and force people to live with consequences,” said Stuart Butler, who spent 35 years leading policy for the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation.

“Well now, that seems to be not quite the strategy,” said Butler, who is now a senior fellow for the Brookings Institution.

Two bills could soon head to President Obama’s desk.

One redefines a full-time worker under the employer mandate as someone who works at least 40 hours per week, while another repeals the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices.

A handful of Democrats have supported each bill, raising the odds that either could be sent to the president's desk with a bipartisan sheen.

Both would then be vetoed, but Republicans believe that could help make their case for a change at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The White House and Democrats hope the new GOP tactics backfire.

They’re trying to paint Republicans as obsessed with fighting old battles.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell delivered a plea Thursday for Congress to “move beyond” attacks on the healthcare law, underlining the administration’s message.

To be sure, Republicans continue to call for repeal. 

Multiple members of the House GOP have already put forward repeal bills. So too have Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and David VitterDavid Bruce VitterTrump nominates wife of ex-Louisiana senator to be federal judge Where is due process in all the sexual harassment allegations? Not the Senate's job to second-guess Alabama voters MORE (R-La.). Cassidy defeated Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuProject Veritas at risk of losing fundraising license in New York, AG warns You want to recall John McCain? Good luck, it will be impossible CNN producer on new O'Keefe video: Voters are 'stupid,' Trump is 'crazy' MORE in November.

And outside groups have signaled some unhappiness with the emphasis on making changes to the law, rather than doing it in.

The Club for Growth sent a letter Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE (R-Ohio) urging them to be “diligent” in their efforts to repeal the law.

Brent Bozell, the firebrand leader of the Tea Party group ForAmerica, warned that the Republicans who are caving on ObamaCare are creating “civil wars” within the party.

Nearly a dozen Tea Party members announced plans this week to leave the House conservative policy group, the Republican Study Committee, with the Affordable Care Act as a central area of dissent.

“If Republicans don’t do something with this mandate [to repeal the healthcare law] that conservatives gave them, conservatives will walk,” Bozell said.

But other observers say the GOP’s recent conversations on ObamaCare are healthy.

“Up until now, it’s been that any move by critics to improve the law, from their perspective, was almost seen as admission of defeat,” said Larry Levitt, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.