It's back to work for House Republicans next week, and the agenda and front-line language of their top priority--repealing President Obama's health care bill--will be as it was before an assassin tried, but failed, to assassinate one of the 219 Democrats who voted for it, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
The bill, H.R. 2, will still be called "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." The underlying rule governing debate on the measure has already been approved, and GOP leadership aides say it would be too difficult to amend the title. They've also assembled a raft of quotes from Obama and prominent Democrats using "job-killing" terminology as a shield they hope will deflect criticism that invoking "job-killing" now is politically tone-deaf and, to some, borderline inflammatory.
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Seven hours of House debate will begin Tuesday with a final up-or-down vote on Wednesday that Republicans will win. That will set the stage for a bit of awkward visual theatre on January 25 when Obama, who won plaudits for his speech on Wednesday calling for a more civil political tone at the Tucson, Ariz., victims' memorial service, delivers his State of the Union address. The lines of policy aggression and antagonism will be sharply drawn in the House chamber even if, as has now been suggested, lawmakers abandon the partisan seating division and mix with one another on the floor. No matter the seating arrangements, the contrast will be unmistakable; Obama on the dais, defending in word and presence his most cherished legislative accomplishment as energized House Republicans sit beaming over their successful effort to repeal it--even though they know in this Congress the journey is quixotic.
Party strategists couldn't be happier.
"It was right and appropriate for the Republicans to take this week off," said Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. "But for Democrats to argue that because of an act of murder the government should change the direction of its policies, well, that's Beirut, that's not America. In 2008 it was 'Democrats won everything and should get their way.' In 2010 it was 'Republicans won an election and should compromise.' Nice try."