The Chamber Shifts Right to Back Health Care Repeal

Just months after refusing to help Republicans overturn the Democrats’ health care reform law, the US Chamber of Commerce has changed course and decided to push for repeal, Chamber CEO and President Tom Donohue indicated Tuesday morning. Donohue pointed to claims that the bill will raise premiums and kick people off their insurance plans as justification for the big business lobby’s shift:

[C]osts are rising and health plans are being forced to change…Officials have already raised the cost estimates of the bill and have acknowledged that the savings earmarked for Medicare will never materialize…

Workers who have been banking on employer-based coverage when they retire are being told not to count on it…[W]ith key provisions under challenge in the courts by states and others, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Last year, while strongly advocating health care reform, the Chamber was a leader in the fight against this particular bill—and thus we support legislation in the House to repeal it.

Donohue’s comments, delivered as part of an annual address, stand in sharp contrast to remarks he made last March, shortly before the Democratic health-care bill crossed the finish line in the Senate. While the Chamber was vocal about its opposition to certain elements of health reform, Donohue promised the K Street behemoth would not actively work to repeal the legislation. “If people want to try and repeal, let them. We’re not going to spend any capital on that,” Donohue told the Wall Street Journal.

Last spring, the Chamber vowed to focus its energies on rolling back regulations in the legislation instead of repealing the entire law. “Should the legislation passed by the House today become law, the Chamber will work through all available avenues—regulatory, legislative, legal, and political—to fix its flaws and minimize its potentially harmful impacts,” Donohue added after the bill passed the House. The Chamber believed, rightly, that full repeal of health care reform was extremely unlikely and that it would be a waste of time and money for Big Business to try to overturn it. “We’d like it to go away. But we’re business people, and we’re pragmatic,” James Gelfand, Chamber’s director health policy, told Time in an article entitled “Resist, Not Repeal.”

But with the Republicans securing their new majority in the House and key seats in the Senate, the Chamber may have felt emboldened—or perhaps pressured—to swing in favor of repeal, despite the long odds. The organization poured more than $32 million into the midterm elections, supporting Republican candidates almost 90 percent of the time. Now the Chamber seems to have made the calculation that backing the GOP repeal movement might be the right strategic move in the new Congress. Though repeal is still unlikely to pass with President Obama in the White House, supporting the Republican line might help Big Business get some of the more incremental changes that it wants to see.