Can Republicans Repeal U.S. Healthcare Overhaul?

By | November 2, 2010

Republicans have vowed to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul — or at least obstruct many of its provisions — if they win control of Congress on Tuesday.

National polls show voters are evenly divided on the law dubbed “Obamacare” by its opponents.

Here are some questions and answers about the law’s future:

WILL REPUBLICANS HAVE THE VOTES TO REPEAL?

It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for Republicans to make good on their promise to repeal the healthcare law.

Polls show Republicans are likely to take control of the House of Representatives in the Nov. 2 congressional elections with Democrats hanging onto the Senate..

That makes it unlikely for Republicans to pass any measures to repeal or change the law since both the House and the Senate must agree on any final legislation. Even if Republicans were to win the 60 seats needed to control the Senate, Obama would most likely veto any repeal.

It takes a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override a veto — 290 votes in the House and 67 votes in the Senate if every member votes. But there are not enough seats up for grabs on Nov. 2 for the Republicans to reach 67 in the Senate, and there is insufficient support among Democrats to support a repeal.

CAN REPUBLICANS STOP HEALTHCARE BY REFUSING TO FUND IT?

They can try to withhold money needed to administer and enforce the law. But, again, they would need control of both chambers of Congress to pass such measures.

Any attempt to block funding also would require 60 votes in the Senate to overcome procedural hurdles and even then would face the threat of a presidential veto.

WHAT COULD A REPUBLICAN-CONTROLLED HOUSE DO?

It could hold hearings on the impact of the health reforms that may sway public opinion against the law and attract support for Republican-backed changes. Such a complex law is bound to run into implementation problems, and the majority party in the House controls committee hearing schedules.

WHICH PROVISIONS WOULD REPUBLICANS TARGET?

One favorite target is the requirement for employers to offer healthcare insurance to employees or pay a tax penalty. Another is the requirement that all Americans buy health insurance.

Another plan would be to block planned reductions in benefits under Medicare, the government-funded health insurance for older Americans, or scale back the expansion of Medicaid, the existing government healthcare program for the poor.

WHAT ABOUT THE LAWSUITS?

Some 20 states have launched legal action to overturn the healthcare law, mostly challenging the constitutionality of imposing what they consider unlawful taxes and requiring people to obtain healthcare coverage, a provision known as the “individual mandate.”

Administration officials and most legal experts say the law will withstand the legal challenge, because the federal government has the ability to levy taxes and the Constitution puts federal government powers above those of states.

Other experts, and opponents of the bill, expect the issue will be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the case could take years to get to the high court, far longer than the immediate political battle over the bill.

HOW WILL THIS PLAY WITH THE PUBLIC?

Polls generally show Americans evenly divided on the healthcare law, but fewer than half view it favorably.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s October health tracking poll showed 42 percent of Americans have favorable views of the new law, 44 percent have unfavorable views and 15 have no opinion. However, most said their feelings about healthcare — for or against — are not a dominant factor in how they will vote for Congress or whether they will even go to the polls.

Obama has recently acknowledged that his administration could have done a better job convincing the public about the program’s benefits.

Still, even some Republicans say the plan may become more popular over time if enough Americans begin to feel it benefits them. That would make it more difficult to convince the public to support repealing or scaling back the law.

IS THERE A PRECEDENT?

Yes. In June 1988 Republican President Ronald Reagan and the Democratic Congress passed the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, which was intended to fill gaps in coverage in the government insurance program for older Americans.

It was celebrated as a bipartisan success that would provide new medical benefits for the elderly. However, older Americans had to pay for it, in the form of an extra Medicare premium and a surtax for people over 65 with higher incomes. The tax led to a protest campaign and Congress, in another bipartisan vote, repealed it in 1989.

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