To Repeal or Not to Repeal

| Tue Mar. 23, 2010 5:47 PM EDT

A bunch of Republicans have already hopped on the bandwagon to cosponsor a bill to repeal healthcare reform, but if you look beyond the headlines the tide may be turning a bit on that front:

Mitch McConnell: Republicans are moving quickly from “repeal” the health care legislation to “repeal and replace” the measure President Obama signed into law Tuesday. Meeting with reporters after a private party strategy meeting, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, took pains to say that Republicans will push not only to overturn the law, but that they intend to replace it with something else.

Scott Brown: Brown is keeping his options open in the wake of a Republican defeat...."I think that's a little premature," he said, when asked whether he would try to repeal the legislation. "I want to see what's going to be in play."

John Cornyn: "There is non-controversial stuff here like the preexisting conditions exclusion and those sorts of things," the Texas Republican said. "Now we are not interested in repealing that. And that is frankly a distraction."

Methinks Republicans are going to get tied up in knots pretty quickly over this. Democrats are obviously going to try to tar everyone opposed to the bill as opposed to every provision of the bill, and aside from the Jim DeMints of the world that's not something most Republicans will welcome. So they'll have to take a more defensive, nuanced stand, and that's a dangerous place to be. (Just ask any Democrat.) Which provisions do you want to keep? Which ones to you want to jettison? You need to keep the goodies if you don't want to piss off various interest groups and you need to keep the cost cutting measures if you don't want to be accused of fiscal profligacy. That might not leave a whole lot: maybe the individual mandate and some taxes. (If you remember that Kaiser poll from last January, even among Republicans there aren't very many other provisions that poll especially badly.) And neither of those is all that attractive either. Going after the individual mandate sends you down an endless rabbit hole of minutiae, and going after the taxes without also going after the popular stuff makes it hard to demagogue the deficit.

Now, I'm sure they'll figure this stuff out. A good tub thumping speech can mask a multitude of sins. But it's going to be harder than they think, while defending the bill is going to be easier than they hope. The shoes are on opposite feet all of a sudden.

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