In a perfect world, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) would like to “fully repeal” Obamacare. “That’s what I voted for earlier this year,” he says, alluding to the Senate GOP’s repeal amendment from March, which failed by a vote of 58 to 39. “But, for now, full repeal is very tough. I would like to see that, but Republicans only have 41 votes.”
With those numbers — stuck in the minority until at least January 2011, with Pres. Barack Obama in office until January 2013 — Hatch says Republicans “need to be strategic, going after Democrats’ arguments and specific provisions” while simultaneously strengthening the broader case against Obamacare. That strategy, he says, is the best way, this year, to stop the Democrats’ march down the “primrose path to socialism.” Last Thursday, to get the ball rolling, Hatch introduced two new repeal measures: One would repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate, and the second would repeal the employer mandate.
Will the bills pass? Probably not, Hatch admits. He also does not expect Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) to let the proposals come up for a vote anytime soon. Still, Hatch says, by opening this battlefront, “we can make the Democrats jumpy, saddling them with their albatross.”
“By attacking the mandates, we take away the Democrats’ arguments against our calls for full repeal, where they say we’d take away protections for people with preexisting conditions,” Hatch explains. “Focusing on the mandates enables us to shine a light on the most unconstitutional aspects of this lousy piece of legislation. It compels them to talk specifics. Let’s remember that these mandates are the central tenets of Obamacare. Gut them and the law falls apart.”
Hatch believes his bills will play a role in keeping his party, and the American people, engaged in the health-care debate, which he says is far from over. “We need to talk about this every day, never stop, and keep the pressure on, doggone it,” he says. “I can only dream of one day having 60 solid fiscal conservative votes. Until then, we have to fight to stop the federal government from forcing people to buy something they don’t want, against their will. If the government can do that, going directly against the Commerce Clause, it can do anything it wants.”
Hatch places his efforts alongside what he sees as a growing repeal movement nationwide. He points to the federal courts, where 20 states have jointly challenged parts of Obamacare, and to Virginia, where state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli is issuing a legal challenge to the mandates, as examples of momentum.
Last week, a Rasmussen poll showed that 58 percent of likely voters favor repeal. Four polls in the last month — CBS, CNN, Public Policy Polling, and Quinnipiac — show Americans opposed to Obamacare. (An Associated Press poll, showing the opposite, is debunked by Jeffrey H. Anderson here.) “People deep down know we’re right,” Hatch says. “The drumbeat of the liberal media for Obamacare has been nonstop. They want people to accept that it’s passed. But let me be clear: We don’t have to live with it. We don’t have to succumb.”
“President Obama, if reelected, will try to move the country to a single-payer system. That’s my theory, at least,” he says. “They know this system isn’t going to work, so they’ll be ready to say, ‘Why don’t we let the government take care of it, and we won’t tax anybody.’ That’s what they want to see happen. And if that happens, it’ll be over.” What’ll be over, senator? “The greatest country in the world,” he says. “We’ll lose our status as the greatest.”
Cuccinelli, the Virginia attorney general, is a leading advocate of repeal, and he tells NRO that he is pleased that Hatch is “taking the lead” in the Senate. “Policy-wise, people have issues with other parts of the health-care bill, but it’s important to work to bring it within the bounds of the Constitution.” Hatch, he says, “is laying down the marker for 2010 and 2012, doing his part to make this part of the national debate. It’s not like something Bill Clinton would do — action for the sake of action — it’s a principled way to show people that we get it, that we mean it, and that we’re the party that will defend the Constitution.”
Hatch’s Senate maneuvers also come on the heels of similar repeal attempts in the House. Last Tuesday, Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.) introduced an amendment to scrap the individual mandate, which failed by a vote of 230 to 187. “I commend Mr. Camp for offering that motion to recommit,” Hatch says. “Over 20 Democrats voted for his measure. It’s another example of why Republicans need to keep the heat on.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) tells NRO that Hatch’s plan is “sound” and “the best we can do until we see where we are in January after the new Congress comes in.” Along with the “second opinions” on Obamacare being offered on a weekly basis by Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), a physician, Hatch’s bills “will keep the debate at the forefront, and the public informed,” he says.
“Look, we’re unlikely to pick up Democrats at this point,” says a senior Senate GOP aide. “They don’t want to pull a Kerry, saying they voted for Obamacare then voted against it. What Hatch is doing is reminding Democrats about what they voted for, that they’re forcing people to buy a product they don’t want, and, in many cases, taking them off a plan they have and like, despite the president’s pledge.”
Hatch says, “this is just the beginning of a dismantling process.” Let the dismantling begin.
– Robert Costa is the William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.