Conservatives begin to admit defeat in their 3-year war against 'ObamaCare'

President Obama’s reelection, and an expanded Democratic majority in the Senate, dealt the final blow to Republicans’ hope for repealing the Affordable Care Act. And though conservatives still say the law will be a disaster once it’s fully implemented, they’re finally acknowledging that it will, in fact, be fully implemented.

“Repeal of the whole thing, I just don’t see now how that’s possible,” said Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a conservative healthcare think tank.

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The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page also admitted defeat Wednesday. With Obama in the White House for another four years, the healthcare law “will spread like termites in the national economy,” the paper wrote.

“Now ObamaCare is a hydra,” Turner said, referring to the mythological creature that grew two new heads whenever one of its many heads was cut off.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act are equally sure it’s here to stay, and they’re confident it will be a success once it’s fully in place. But they’ve been treating it as the law of the land since it became the law of the land, while Republicans have held out time and time again for the possibility of repeal. Tuesday was the last chance.

“While it’s sort of the political status quo in some ways, I think there has been a lot of pent-up work that is now going to be unleashed,” said Sabrina Corlette, a health policy expert at Georgetown University. “Now I feel like we are all systems go. We can focus on getting the law up and running.”

Republicans believed they could kill “ObamaCare” during the legislative debate, then hoped for a repeal vote after the 2010 midterms, then pinned their hopes on the Supreme Court. They met defeat at every turn. And though the issue still helped motivate the GOP base this year, a Romney victory and a Republican Senate were the last practical opportunity for repeal.

“The further we got in time from the original passage, the more that anger becomes dissipated,” Turner said. “It became not a major issue, so I think that what happened is you had some key markers where it could have been taken down, and now it’s more fragmented.”

Conservatives still said Wednesday that they believe the law is bad policy and want to see it repealed, but the avenues to do so are increasingly narrow and far-fetched. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday that Obama should “start over” with a new agenda that includes repealing the historic political achievement he spent more than a year fighting for — a stretch, to say the least.

Dean Clancy, the vice president for healthcare policy at FreedomWorks, said conservatives will still look for ways to weaken the Affordable Care Act, but acknowledged that outright repeal is now out of reach.

“Last night was a missed opportunity to have a pro-repeal Senate and White House, and that was a huge missed opportunity,” Clancy said.

He said conservatives will look for openings in spending bills and debt negotiations to chip away at the health law. House Republicans focused on defunding after winning the majority in 2010, but that effort largely failed, and Democrats are now even more powerful in the Senate.

“Implementation is going to go forward. You’ll see a raft of regulations go through now,” Clancy said. “There’s no doubt that opponents have been thrown decisively on the defensive by this outcome, but that doesn’t change the fact that they still have every reason to oppose the government takeover. It just complicates the job and drags it out.”

In Wednesday’s grumbling over “ObamaCare,” there were clear echoes of the mistrust that many conservatives felt toward Romney during the primary. His rivals argued that he wouldn’t be an effective messenger for repealing the healthcare law because he had passed a nearly identical measure in Massachusetts.

One healthcare lobbyist said Romney released too few ads focused on healthcare, opting instead to toss boilerplate repeal language into his standard stump speech. With Romney at the top of the ticket, healthcare took a backseat to the economy and other issues, and that contributed to the loss of any real repeal opportunity, conservatives argued.

“If the election had been more explicitly a referendum on ObamaCare, the results might have been different,” Clancy said.



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