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Posted at 1:30 PM ET, 01/ 6/2011

Health care repeal: Democrats' dilemma or GOP overreach?

By Aaron Blake

With the House set to vote on a repeal of the health care bill next week, the drama is in the details.

Why? Because the bill is 100 percent symbolic; it will not pass the (still) Democratic-led Senate, and even if it did, Republicans could expect a lightning-fast veto from President Obama. (This is his major legislative initiative, after all).

Strategists on both sides of the issue acknowledge that the repeal effort is pure theater, aimed at fulfilling a Republican campaign promise to hold the vote and, hopefully, having the helpful side effect of pushing a few Democrats into another tough vote on the health care law.

But how tough is the vote, really? And what's the payoff for the GOP?

Of the 34 House Democrats who voted against the final version of the health care bill last year, only 13 survived the 2010 election. For that baker's dozen of survivors, this vote could indeed be tricky .

Former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) says he expects most of the 13 Democrats to vote for repeal.

"Members could find reasons to vote against what the Republicans are trying to do, but my guess is that most of them will try and be consistent and will vote (for repeal)," Frost said.

Already, two of the 13 -- Reps. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) - have suggested they will support the GOP's repeal bill. But five others who didn't support the health care bill last year are now saying they will not support repeal.

Democrats are holding out hope that they can get a few more of the 13 members to vote against repeal, undercutting the GOP's ploy.

In the end, a vote against repeal isn't as difficult politically as a vote for the original bill. While the health care bill commands less than majority support (and has for some time), a full repeal, which is what the GOP is offering, polls much worse. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 52 percent of Americans opposed the bill, but of that group, only 29 percent wanted a full repeal, 30 percent wanted a repeal with changes and 38 percent preferred a "wait-and-see" approach.

The GOP bill is a full repeal, which Republicans aim to follow up with a number of other proposals to restore some of the more popular elements.

Democrats lost the messaging battle in the first few rounds of the health care fight but they've come out strong when it comes to repeal, and they think they've got a case to be made that this is the wrong course of action to make changes to the law. They are decrying the GOP's unwillingness to allow amendments on the bill and pointing to the Congressional Budget Office's preliminary estimate, released today, that a repeal would cost $230 billion by 2021.

Part of the problem with the Democrats' message in 2010 is that they were trying to talk about the good things in the bill -- coverage for pre-existing conditions being one of them -- but weren't able to overcome the opposition to the bill as a whole. People wanted those items but not all the others, and they didn't understand why they couldn't just get the good stuff. (This is, by the way, a perennial political problem.)

At the same time, it will be tempting for most Democrats to vote for repeal. Most of the 13 Democrats who voted against the original bill already sit in pretty conservative districts, and most of their districts are going to be redrawn by Republicans before the 2012 election, making their reelection bids potentially more difficult.

At the same time, remember this: Republicans during and after the health care vote were careful to say that they supported not just repeal of the health care bill, but repealing AND replacing it. This bill only does the former, and Republicans will need to emphasize their efforts to replace the bill if they want to get any political payoff.

A few Democrats are going to be put in a tough spot next week, but there is some risk for Republicans here, and they can't count on winning the messaging battle in the same way -- and with the same ease -- they won it last time.

By Aaron Blake  | January 6, 2011; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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