The Magazine

The Candidates and Repeal

Jan 2, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 16 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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During a recent 60 Minutes interview, President Obama revealed that he was being modest when he awarded himself a B+ grade near the end of his first year as president. “I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president—with the possible exceptions of Johnson, FDR, and Lincoln—just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history,” the president said.

Michele Bachmann with a "repeal it now" sign

While remarkable in its arrogance, the most striking thing about Obama’s comment on 60 Minutes is that it could prove true. Obama might indeed deserve a high rank in terms of his success in deliberately changing the course of American history. And in Obama’s case, not for the better. If Obama is reelected, it’s quite possible that Americans will never again enjoy the liberty, fiscal solvency, or economic prosperity enjoyed by our forebears. That’s how bad Obamacare, the centerpiece of Obama’s legacy, truly is, and why it must be repealed.

Not all Republican leaders realize this. The rank-and-file Republican and independent voters who gave the GOP an overwhelming victory in the 2010 elections understood how urgently important it is to repeal Obamacare before it would really go into effect at the start of 2014. Meeting that goal requires defeating Obama. But many of the candidates running for the GOP nomination in 2012 don’t seem to be focused on the prospect that Obamacare could become a permanent part of American life.

In the immediate aftermath of Obamacare’s passage, most Republicans were determined—as they are now—to repeal the law in its entirety. Yet Mitt Romney merely called for repealing “the worst aspects of Obamacare,” saying he hoped we could ultimately “repeal the bad and keep the good.” When comparing his Massachusetts health care overhaul with Obamacare, Romney said, “I like some of the similarities.” Since then, Romney seems to have come around to full repeal, but he’s been rather evasive about the similarities that he once claimed to like. These include requiring essentially everyone (not just 8 percent of the population, as Romney has repeatedly maintained is the case in Massachusetts) to buy government-approved health insurance under penalty of law; substantially expanding Medicaid; offering huge taxpayer-funded subsidies for insurance purchased through government-run “exchanges”; and increasing access to taxpayer-subsidized abortion.

Of further concern is Romney’s lack of emphasis on repeal. In his economic plan, Romney talks about repealing Obamacare, but he doesn’t list a repeal bill among the first five pieces of legislation he’d propose to Congress. He has talked a lot about issuing Obamacare waivers, but little about shepherding full repeal legislation through the House and Senate. He has given almost no indication that he’d make repeal a cornerstone of a general election campaign.

Romney is hardly the only Republican candidate who appears to be less than fully consumed with advancing repeal. Ron Paul simply lumps Obamacare in with all other excessive expansions of federal power. Rick Perry seems dedicated to repeal in theory, but too often his comments on health care veer off into energy policy. Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman also support repeal, but neither has made it a centerpiece of his campaign.

Only Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann have prioritized the issue to the degree that it would seem to merit. Gingrich unequivocally lists repeal as the first item on his legislative agenda and has said, “I think that’ll be the campaign theme in September and October of next year.” As for his earlier support of an individual mandate, Gingrich now plainly states, “I concluded I was wrong.” Bachmann has repeatedly made it clear that she rightly regards the repeal of Obamacare as a matter that will define us as a nation.

Whoever eventually wins the Republican nomination will represent the party in the most momentous presidential race in generations. The Republican nominee will be positioned to beat Obama and sign into law the repeal of his signature legislation. If, and only if, the GOP nominee completes both parts of that task, will he or she leave behind a historic legacy—and replace Obama on the list of consequential presidents.

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