News and Tribune

July 15, 2013

HOWEY: Coats skeptical Obamacare can be repealed

By BRIAN HOWEY
Indiana columnist

ANGOLA —

There is no question about it, Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Coats is an ardent proponent for the repeal of Obamacare.

Indiana’s senior senator believes it is crimping the economy, costing jobs, and places undue burdens and taxes on employers and medical device makers. He also knows that many of his Democratic Senate colleagues are petrified of the political impact.

On Wednesday, Coats joined 44 other GOP senators in asking President Obama to “permanently delay” the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The repeal is something Republican U.S. Reps. Marlin Stutzman and Luke Messer see as a distinct possibility in the next year or so as Obamacare is implemented and public support in the polls plummets. This was fueled last week when the Obama administration made a Friday evening bad-news dump on the U.S. Department of Treasury website that it was delaying implementation of the employer mandate until 2015, after the mid-term elections. It was a move that Coats called a “2014 political calculation.”

So is Coats expecting a repeal?

“What I don’t agree with is it will be repealed,” Coats said Tuesday. “It’s the President’s signature item. He has so much invested in it. He’s not going to let that happen.”

The precedence for repeal occurred in 1989 when Congress retracted the catastrophic health care plan forged by Health and Human Service Secretary Otis “Doc” Bowen and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in July 1988. President George H.W. Bush did not stand in the way.

Last month, Stutzman and Messer fleshed out the repeal scenario after the Republican House had voted for the 33rd time to repeal Obamacare, prompting questions about whether these were simply futile, political gestures. “Why I say that is we’re about to undergo next fall and winter and then next spring, the full-blown implementation of Obamacare,” Messer said. “I think this is the last opportunity for the full repeal if there is a public outrage over the next several months.”

Stutzman described a “crescendo” of resistance,” adding, “consumers will find this isn’t exactly what they thought it would be.”

Republicans and Tea Party affiliates are already taking aim to create a collapse of public support. Americans For Prosperity has launched a $1 million TV ad campaign in swing states to destabilize support for Obamacare.

House Republicans are working up a number of votes to codify the Obama administration’s employer delay and then demand a similar one on the individual mandate. “Is it fair for the President of the United States to give American businesses an exemption from his health care law’s mandates without giving the same exemption to the rest of America?” asked House Speaker John Boehner. “Hell no, it’s not fair.” 

The difference between 1989 and now is that Obama is president and will be for three and a half more years.

Coats cites the President’s obstruction of the medical device tax repeal, which passed the Senate with 79 votes, including 24 Democrats. “That’s 79 out of 100 support the repeal of the medical device tax,” Coats said of the tax that is hitting Indiana firms like Cook Group, ZimmerUSA, DePuy and Biomet. “The White House wants nothing to do with that. We have the ability to override the veto on it, but Harry Reid has instructions: ‘Don’t you ever bring that up for a vote’ because that begins the unraveling of” Obamacare.

In explaining his votes for total repeal, Coats went further than many Republicans, saying, “I’ve also said we have to have a total proposal to replace. We can’t just say, kill health care and go back to the status quo. Frankly we don’t have that yet.”

The other scenario that Republicans suggest is that if a Republican president is elected in 2016 along with two Republican chambers in Congress, Obamacare can be scrapped then.

“It’s a sixth of the economy,” Coats said. “I think so many parts of it have been implemented, it would be impossible to go back to zero.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, who voted for the law but predicted tweaks would be needed, said, “You’ve had some folks on one side saying: ‘We don’t like the health care law so we’re not going to do anything to try to improve it.’ And on the Democrat side, you had people saying ‘There are problems with it, but we don’t want to talk about them and we don’t want to fix them, we’ve just got to keep the wagons circled and plow forward.’” 

“And I thought to myself, both of those positions are completely unreflective of reality,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly and U.S. Rep. Todd Young have introduced bills that would alter the definition of full-time employees after Indiana school districts began lay offs.

Coats had been telling people privately that he sees the ACA as a back door to a single-payer system.

Asked about that, Coats said, “I think that’s been the intent all along. This is where they wanted to start. Because Hillary care went down and the public wasn’t ready for that, they said, ‘Let’s put a process in place that will begin that.’ That’s still a likely possibility. “

— Maureen Hayden of CNHI contributed to this column. The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.