Republicans in the House of Representatives scheduled a vote on a simple measure to repeal Obamacare, the massive and complex health care reform bill passed early last year. Given the changed composition of the House following November's midterm elections — especially considering that of six Democrats who switched from opposing Obamacare in early votes to supporting it on final passage, five lost — the repeal bill is likely to pass the House.
Considering that the Senate still has a solid Democratic majority and that the president has veto power, the vote in the House is unlikely to lead to repeal of the bill. If this vote is to be anything other than pure symbolism — "we told voters we would move to repeal Obamacare and we gave it the old college try" — Republicans will have to do more in the coming two years to pinpoint and publicize Obamacare's shortcomings and make it clear that they support more workable alternatives to improve health care in the United States.
Inviting officials like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to testify would be a good start. Since the bill's passage it has become fairly obvious that it would increase the cost of health care and threaten access to the system for millions of Americans. The mandate for everyone to purchase health insurance has been challenged in the courts as unconstitutional, and several federal judges have found that it is. What does Ms. Sebelius think of these developments?
A number of businesses and many labor unions have already obtained waivers from some of the new law's insurance mandates. Republicans might move to expand those waivers, make them permanent and urge others to apply. The IRS says it will need to hire 13,500 new agents to administer the unpopular individual mandate. Since the House has the power of the purse, it could refuse to fund such hiring, at least as long as the issue is being litigated in the courts.
Various Republicans, notably Rep. Paul Ryan of Illinois, have proposed constructive alternatives, from allowing health insurance to be purchased across state lines (increasing competition) to making Medicare a voucher system to allowing individuals as well as corporations to get a tax credit for purchasing health insurance. Expansion of Flexible Savings Accounts and Health Savings Accounts should also be on the table.
In politics it is usually more profitable to go negative than to defend specific positive proposals. But Republicans must take that risk if they hope to be taken seriously.