It’s officially Repeal ObamaCare Week in the U.S. House, and the air will be filled with the noise of a renewed battle over the alleged benefits and demerits of that landmark legislation. Once the repeal bill has formally passed the House and formally died in the Senate, Republicans will move on to their real agenda of disabling health reform indirectly.
It’s not clear at this point which provisions will be targeted most aggressively: the individual mandate that makes coverage of the less healthy uninsured possible; the Medicaid mandates on the states (many of which are itching to cut Medicaid); the long-term care insurance program; the funds made available to set up health insurance exchanges—these are all possibilities. And while House Republicans are instructing their committee to begin drafting “replacement” legislation for the 2010 Act, there’s no real indication they are serious about their own “ideas” for health reform, other than as a way to deny association with the health care status quo.
As the health reform repeal saga plays itself out, pressure is steadily mounting to find some way to avoid defeat of a debt limit increase, which will probably be necessary by March. And while the growing number of Republicans (including three proto-presidential candidates) demanding a defeat of this measure all say they are holding it hostage to a major deficit reduction package, there’s no consensus on how much in the way of spending cuts will serve as an adequate ransom.
On the 2012 front, Democratic prospects for hanging onto the Senate took a hit as Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota announced he would not run for another term that year. ND Democrats lost their other senator, Byron Dorgan, to retirement last year, while veteran at-large House member Earl Pomeroy was defeated.
Meanwhile, a Republican senator thought to be vulnerable to a 2012 conservative primary challenge, Richard Lugar of Indiana, took his political life in his hands by calling for a return to the federal assault gun ban of the Clinton years, which expired in 2004. Another step like that will probably feed rumors that Lugar’s privately decided to retire, though he’s shown no sign of it publicly.
In other 2012 news, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced he was not interested in running for president this cycle. Christie had become a very hot property of late among Republicans looking for an alternative to what is shaping up as a dangerously weak field, though the logistics of a first-term governor running for president were probably prohibitive. An effort to draft Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana (currently mulling over a 2012 gubernatorial candidacy) to run for president was publicly launched, with influential RedState blogger Erick Erickson cheerleading from the sidelines. And Sarah Palin’s interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity last night might well be interpreted as her effort to rally conservative base support as assessments of her potential presidential strength go south. Speaking of Palin, Nate Silver took issue with the common meme (most recently articulated by Ross Douthat) that her notoriety is a pure media construction, noting that polls show her to be the most galvanizing figure in American politics.
The Democratic candidate for president in 2012, Barack Obama, got some good news as his job approval rating moved over 50 percent for the first time in months in two major polls, from CNN and ABC-Washington Post. And as you have probably heard, the White House staff got a familiar addition this last week, as former DLC president and Clinton staffer (and most recently, staff director for the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission) Bruce Reed became vice-president Joe Biden’s chief of staff, joining his close friend and Clinton-era colleague Gene Sperling (the new chairman of the National Economic Council) as major new administration hires.