Will the GOP Repeal Health Reform in 2012?

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On Fox News Sunday, Liz Cheney gave a damning evaluation of the Obama administration, saying that Republicans in 2012 would need to "undo a lot of the damage that this president has done." Among her chief concerns is the country's "health care system." While the idea of Republicans cleaning up the mess of Democrats sparked outrage among some, the realistic threat of a 2012 repeal of health care reform has attracted attention.

In late October, as Democrats continued to move a health care bill through the House, Fox News analyst Newt Gingrich gave a cocksure forecast: "Let me make a straightforward promise. These bills can't be implemented before 2013. If they pass a bill which is a disaster, the number one campaign issue in 2010 and 2012 is going to be repeal the bill. If they're determined to put something bad in the country, the country can rise up, defeat the people who do it and repeal it... We can repeal this monstrosity."

The former speaker's claim was echoed throughout the conservative blogosphere by pundits such as Joseph Smith at The American Thinker, who've explained where the political impetus for a repeal could come from:

If Congress does pass an ObamaCare bill, it will be in spite of the will of a majority of Americans, and it is unlikely that the voters will roll over and play dead.  A government takeover will only exacerbate the backlash that is building across the country, at the electoral peril of the Democrats.  Obama won by attracting independents and on the strength of strong votes from the young and from black voters.  With independents deserting Obama in the polls, expected lower numbers of young and black voters without Obama on the ticket, and the normally high numbers of senior voters in the mid-term elections, the Democrats are likely to feel the backlash in 2010. Hell hath no fury like a voter scorned.

Few political observers have given more serious thought to a GOP repeal than Ron Brownstein, who writes in the current issue of National Journal:

If Obama does sign a reform bill, which appears more likely than not, Republicans will face a momentous choice between consolidation and repudiation -- between accepting the new program and seeking to dismantle it. The alternative paths are neatly captured by the GOP's contrasting reactions to the two central cords of America's existing social safety net.

Brownstein then sketches two historical examples. After FDR passed his New Deal legislation, Republicans fought to repeal it for years until Republican President Eisenhower finally called a ceasefire in 1952. In contrast, when LBJ ushered in Medicare, Republicans did not resist it after regaining power. So which route will the Republicans take this time? Brownstein says Republicans will likely fight the legislation tooth and nail for two reasons 1) With the health care bill, Republicans are almost uniformly opposed, which was not the case with social security or Medicare 2) Any time large bills are phased in, as health care reform will be, it encourages long, protracted "trench warfare."

Keeping this in mind, Brownstein argues that the 2012 elections will mean a great deal:

If Obama passes health reform and Republicans then seek its repeal, the next presidential election could lastingly redefine America's social safety net. Like 1936 and 1968, 2012 looms as a crossroads in the relationship between Americans and their government.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.