Still, there's hope on the horizon. We've got elections in November and, once Republicans run all the Democrats out of office, there won't be any healthcare reform anymore. "Every [GOP] candidate who is running a campaign in November 2010, that will be one of the first questions and the first ads that will want to ask, 'Are your health care costs lower now by virtue of passing this health care bill?' I think the answer to that will be no, they are not," Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn said a few weeks ago. Yup, Republicans are going to run on repeal and no two ways about it.
For his part, President Obama, clearly intimidated by Republican promises to run on repealing his landmark legislation, can't surrender fast enough.
"Be my guest," Obama said in the first of many planned appearances to sell the revamp before fall congressional elections. "If they want to have that fight, we can have it. Because I don't believe the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver's seat."
The president and Democrats are obviously on the run.
Despite the fact that running on repeal would be the smartest move anyone ever had, Republicans have blinked. Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, who had previously pledged to work for repeal, now says he won't. "There are a lot of things in this bill I think you and I certainly like," he says. He's not alone. Over at The Wonk Room, Igor Volsky put together this handy list:
- Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN): "The fact is that s not going to happen, OK? Corker said today at Vanderbilt University. He also said last week that repeal is probably not going to be practical."
- Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC): "It may not be total repeal at the end of the day, said Burr in a radio interview. It may be a series of fixes over the course of this bill getting enacted that allow us to change and possibly bend that cost curve down."
- Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): "The focus really should be on the misplaced priorities of the administration&Candidates are going to test the winds in their own states. & In some places, the health care bill is more popular than others."
- Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL): promised to lead the charge on repeal just two weeks ago, he now refuses to answer when reporters "asked repeatedly 'if he wanted to repeal health care reform.'"
For his part, John Cornyn is sticking to his guns -- except when he's not. Repeal it is... maybe... if you call it something else... or call an election cycle a "repeal."
"Whether you want to call it repeal, or whether you want to call it a referendum I don't think makes a dime's worth of difference," Cornyn told Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler. "I think the point we're trying to make, and I think those who are talking about repeal are trying to make, is that this will be the issue that will define the November election."
Of course, "repeal" and "referendum" don't mean the same thing at all. That's why they're two different words. Cornyn might as well have said, "Whether you want to call it swimming, or whether you want to call it a birthday cake I don't think makes a dime's worth of difference."
That didn't fly with the teabaggers -- which is a problem for Republicans -- so Cornyn tried to have his birthday cake and swim it, too. "Make no mistake about it: I fully support repealing this Washington takeover of health care and replacing it with a bipartisan bill that lowers the cost of health care," he's said more recently.
The GOP has painted themselves into a corner with their own over-the-top rhetoric. They've convinced the base that reform is a catastrophe, so they can't support it after the fact. But there's real danger that support for reform will gain ground between now and November, so they can't really put all their chips on repeal either.
In response to this new reality, they do what Republicans do; have it both ways. The answer to whether or not they're for repeal depends on who's doing the asking. The party's reactionary mindset prevents them from foreseeing this sort of thing. They just react to what's happening today, then do the same thing tomorrow. We saw the same lack of foresight in their support of Bush's invasion of Iraq; the whole thing was based on lies, but no one ever seemed to give a moment's thought to what would happen when those lies didn't actually pan out -- which was inevitable. There's a cliche that Republicans are playing checkers, while everyone else is playing chess, but even in checkers you have to think ahead. Republicans are playing pinball, whacking away at the ball when it comes close to the flippers and hoping for the best.
Is this approach going to work for them in November? Assuming nothing changes, yes. But that's the GOP's problem; they always assume nothing will change. In any case, recent history shows it can't possibly pan out in the long run. Republicans running on repeal are running on an already broken promise -- it doesn't stand a chance in hell.
If it doesn't bite them in the behind this time around, it'll do it eventually.
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