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GOP aims for showdown

Republicans in chamber keen on getting job done even before the State of the Union address.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, holds a copy of the health care bill, tied in sturdy rope, in front of the Capitol in Washington during a Republican news conference in November 2009.

AP FILE PHOTO

WASHINGTON — Eager to show who’s now in charge, the House’s new Republican majority plans to vote to repeal President Barack Obama’s landmark health care overhaul before he even shows up in their chamber to give his State of the Union address.

Though full repeal is a longshot — the House vote would be just the first, easiest step — they’ll follow up with dozens of attempts to hack away at what they derisively call “Obamacare.”

The strategy is not risk-free for the Republicans, who won’t have a replacement plan of their own ready by the time of the repeal vote. But they say there’s no time to lose.

Senate Democratic leaders are sending their own “you-don’t-scare-me” message. In a letter Monday to House Speaker-to-be John Boehner, they served notice that they’ll block any repeal, arguing it would kill popular provisions such as improved prescription coverage for Medicare.

All the while, the Obama administration intends to keep putting into place the law’s framework for covering more than 30 million uninsured people. Ultimately, Obama still has his veto pen, and Republicans aren’t anywhere close to the two-thirds majorities they would need to override.

Most likely, both parties will carry the main issues of the health care debate into the 2012 presidential election, when Obama is expected to seek a second term and House and Senate control will be up for grabs again.

“It’s not going to be easy; it’s going to be a long, hard slog,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.“Repeal and replace” worked as a campaign slogan to motivate voters concerned about the growing reach of government under Obama. But a single-minded focus on repeal could backfire as a Republican governing strategy. Polls show that some parts of the law are popular, and many Americans would have wanted even bigger changes.

Look for Republicans to try to deny money for the government to carry out the law. They’ll also attempt to strip out sections of it, such as a new long-term care program. And they’ll move to strengthen restrictions on funding for abortions.

It’s far from clear that they’ll be able to prevail in those efforts either. There’s talk that an effort to deny funding could even escalate to the point of a possible government shutdown, and no one seems eager for that.

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