Congress vs. Obamacare

A date on the vote to repeal the healthcare bill is set -- round two in the battle begins.

When the 112th Congress convenes on Wednesday, the first thing that the new Republican leadership in the House plans to do is to read the text of the Constitution aloud. Following that, the first bill that the GOP expects to vote on in the House will be on repealing Obamacare. Both moves are equally symbolic, as Republicans try to convince voters that the message delivered on November 2, 2010 has been received loud and clear. The House vote to repeal the healthcare bill should take place next Wednesday, January 12, if everything goes according to plan.

It is expected that the repeal bill will sail through the House, perhaps even with a veto-proof majority. Fred Upton (R-MI), the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sounded upbeat about the bill’s chances on Fox News Sunday. "We have 242 Republicans. There will be a significant number of Democrats, I think, that will join us," Upton said. "Remember when [Speaker Nancy Pelosi] said we want to pass this thing because then we'll learn what's in it? Well, now the American public does know what is in it. Unpopularity numbers are as high as 60 percent across the country. I don't think we're going to be that far off from having the votes to actually override a veto."

That’s the good news on healthcare, but the bad news is that is all the good news there is. The repeal will pass the House, but it’s unlikely that Majority Leader Harry Reid would allow the bill to come up for a vote in the Senate, very doubtful that the bill would pass in the Senate if it did come up for a vote, and – even if the stars somehow aligned to make both of the forgoing events possible – it’s inconceivable that sufficient Senate votes could be found to override a certain presidential veto. In short, direct repeal of Obamacare isn’t going to happen. Yet, the attempt to do so must be made for at least two reasons. Resentment and dissatisfaction over the healthcare bill and all of the spending it represents runs deep. Accordingly, elected representatives must demonstrate that they are listening to their constituents and try to go after Obamacare using the most direct and effective route available. Second, this sort of frontal assault, though doomed to failure, sets the stage for the flanking attacks that must follow. An attempt to repeal Obamacare in one stroke is a signal that the tenor of the battle in the halls of Congress is changing.

If the healthcare bill is to be effectively killed, it will almost undoubtedly be by a death of a thousand cuts rather that the kind of sudden decapitation envisioned in the repeal bill. The GOP has already announced its intention to go after Obamacare from every possible angle. The hope is that while any single strategy to wound the plan might not be enough, the combination of all possible strategies might effectively eviscerate the government’s attempt to take over America’s healthcare system. Among the strategies that Republicans are using or plan to use to achieve that end are:

• Supporting efforts to have the courts declare key portions of the healthcare bill unconstitutional. The so-called “individual mandate” to purchase health insurance is the natural legal target. In December, US District Judge Henry Hudson found that the requirement to purchase health insurance is, in his learned opinion, unconstitutional. It seems likely that this issue will travel to the Supreme Court before it is decided once and for all.

• The sovereignty of the states is another part of the legal strategy, and the lawsuit filed by twenty states in an attempt to void Obamacare continues to make its way through the court system.

• If the entire healthcare bill cannot be repealed in one stroke, certain provisions of the bill may be repealed bit by bit. Some parts of the bill, such as requirements that would make small businesses fill out even more tax forms than they do already, seem ripe for the picking.

• Finally, the GOP plans to withhold funding for some key parts of Obamacare, for instance, funding to the Internal Revenue Service for enforcement of the insurance mandate. It is hoped that this will help make the overall plan unravel all the quicker.

Finally, while it’s vitally important to dismantle the healthcare bill by any means possible, it will be incumbent upon this Congress to propose an alternative vision as well. Simply returning to the status quo pre-Obamacare isn’t going to cut it. There are commonsense, free market solutions to help rein in insurance and healthcare costs. Congress needs to embrace those kinds of alternatives at the same time that it rejects what is in effect, if not in name, European-style socialized medicine.