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 CruzDemocrats sharpen case on second day of arguments What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial Democrats' impeachment case lands with a thud with GOP — but real audience is voters 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 VitterThe biggest political upsets of the decade Red-state governor races put both parties on edge Louisiana Republicans score big legislative wins MORE (R-La.). Cassidy defeated Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuA decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ 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 McConnellSenate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems to present case on abuse of power on trial's third day The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA time for war, a time for peace — and always a time to defend America Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Soleimani killing deepens distrust between Trump, Democrats 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.