Today the House of Representatives begins debate over H.R. 2, the bill to repeal health reform, with a vote on the bill scheduled for Wednesday, January 19, 2011. Debate was postponed from earlier this month due to the assassination attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D. Arizona), and lawmakers reconvene in a mood chastened by the violence in Tuscon. House Speaker John Boehner has even referred to the bill as “the job-destroying” rather than “job-killing” health care law, perhaps in deference to the deaths of Rep. Giffords’ aides and attendees at her public forum.
That said, the Obama Administration and Democratic legislators are making a strong push to “sell” the public on the merits of health care reform. Their efforts include a pro-reform event featuring Nancy Pelosi, a pro-reform letter to members of Congress from the Secretaries of HHS, Labor, and the Treasury, and a news conference hosted by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. In an effort tailored more closely to legislators’ personal concerns, Reps. Henry Waxman (D. California) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D. New Jersey) released a data-heavy analysis that illustrates the potential effects of repealing reform in each Congressional District and in 30 urban centers across the country. The analysis, which is found here, clearly is meant to “bring home” to lawmakers the idea that a vote to repeal reform could cost votes in the next election cycle.
It could be argued that the pro-reform push is too little, too late. The pro-reform message, to be effective, should have been consistently conveyed all last year. Continued economic woes and other factors simply did not allow for this, or possibly the Obama Administration concluded that it had already spent enough political capital on the topic for one year.
Another problem with this late push to “save” health care reform is the flawed rhetoric used in its defense. The Democrats are taking “repeal” at its face value and telling people that they will lose popular benefits such as limits on pre-existing conditions and coverage for over-age dependents, up to age 26. In fact, the GOP would likely re-implement these measures in new reform proposals that would follow a successful vote on repeal of PPACA. Alternative reform legislation would also likely include the abilty to purchase insurance across state lines, which would possibly temper the other negative impact of repeal that Democrats are predicting – untrammeled profit-seeking by insurance companies.
In the meanwhile, voters’ support for health care reform is as mixed as it was before the PPACA was passed; results of a recent national poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows 20% of those polled support expanding reform, 21% support leaving reform legislation as-is, 25% supporting partial repeal, and 26% supporting full repeal. I doubt that the public or Congressional debate in Washington D.C. this week will change those numbers very much. A vote to repeal the PPACA could be more than symbolic, however, if it directs attention to newly sponsored legislation – PPACA Lite? – that could gain a more decisive share of public support.