Political Hay

Republicans Against Repeal

To some in the GOP, conservatism means conserving Obamacare.

By 4.8.10

Well, that didn't take long. After Democratic supermajorities rammed through their health care bill, Republicans were full of sound and fury about how this injustice will not stand. Even John McCain was on board, telling a television interviewer, "Outside the Beltway the American people are very angry and they don't like it and we are going to try to repeal this."

But in the GOP, cooler heads always prevail. What these Republican heads want to cool down is the campaign to repeal the health care takeover. Reports the Associated Press: "Top Republicans are increasingly worried that GOP candidates this fall might be burned by a fire that's roaring through the conservative base: demand for the repeal of President Barack Obama's new health care law."

One of the Republican leadership's volunteer firefighters is none other than Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who chairs the committee responsible for getting GOP candidates elected to the Senate this fall. Cornyn initially unfurled the "repeal and replace" banner, only to quickly make an exception for the "non-controversial stuff," such as the ban on preexisting conditions which is unfortunately exactly what necessitates the "controversial stuff" like the individual mandate.

Cornyn was later seen pouring cold water on the idea entirely. Asked by the AP whether he was going to advise Republican senatorial nominees to run on repeal, he said, "Candidates are going to test the winds in their own states... In some places, the health care bill is more popular than others." Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee doesn't need a weatherman to tell him where the wind blows: "It's just not going to happen."

Republican candidates seeking to join Cornyn and Corker in the club have gotten the memo. Shortly before Obamacare passed, Congressman Mark Kirk -- the Republican running to fill Barack Obama's old Senate seat in Illinois -- bravely vowed to "lead the effort" to repeal the bill. Now he glumly tells a local newspaper, "Well, we lost."

Not only is it the case that Republicans "do not have the votes," but Kirk noted "a sliver of good things in the bill which Republicans agreed with." Judging from the similarities between the new national health care regime and the Massachusetts bill Republican Sen. Scott Brown voted for and GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney signed into law, for some Republicans it is more than a sliver.

Republicans against repeal have found an amen corner in the cooler heads among conservative commentators. One Oliver Garland even counseled that repeal was fundamentally unconservative: "True conservatives are not radicals; they respect tradition and work for stable reform to fix institutions."

There you have it: Repealing a bill that became law last month is radical. Acquiescing to a decades-long flurry of legislation that effectively repeals the Constitution's limits on federal power is conservative. Ronald Reagan should have raised taxes to conserve the Great Society and shouted, "Mr. Gorbachev, remember and reform that wall!"

Then again, this appears to be the working definition of conservatism embraced by most GOP politicians. Republicans campaign on canceling spending programs, shutting down government agencies, and overturning Roe v. Wade. But once safely in office, they tend to leave most liberal handiwork alone, failing to repeal even Bill Clinton's tax increases. Occasionally they add a few big-government flourishes of their own -- a new entitlement to enlarge Medicare's unfunded liabilities here, a record increase in federal education spending there.

When David Frum blogs about the Republican pedigree of some ideas in the Democratic health care bill and suggests Republican snouts should have found their way to the trough, there is outrage. When Republicans actually govern this way, too often there is silence -- eerily like the hush that falls over antiwar protests after Democrats are elected on promises to end wars, even though the wars still continue.

If Republicans cannot repeal an unpopular bill where many of the costs are front-loaded, many of the benefits are yet to come, and where the creation of another entitlement is as detrimental to their own partisan self-interest as it is to the nation's finances, then conservatives cannot count on Republicans to undo very much of what they routinely denounce and campaign against.

The Republican Party will simply be the saucer that cools the Tea Party. Cooler heads will have prevailed -- and so will have liberalism.

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About the Author

W. James Antle III is politics editor of the Washington Examiner and the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter @jimantle.