Senate GOP's Health Law Foes Hope To Win By Losing

February 2, 2011

Frank James

There aren't enough votes in the Senate to repeal the new health care law. That was pretty much a given even before a repeal attempt by the Senate GOP failed late Wednesday.

Senate Republicans needed 60 votes to advance their repeal legislation and they clearly don't have that, the GOP minority having only 47 votes in its caucus.

All 47 voted for the GOP amendment to repeal the health care law. Fifty one Democrats and independents voted against it.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, however, the Senate minority leader, and his fellow Republicans don't have to win now to win later, as in 2012.

It was McConnell who forced Wednesday's vote by introducing an amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration bill to repeal the health overhaul law.

Republicans hope that by forcing some Senate Democrats facing tough re-election campaigns to vote against repeal, they would further weaken those Democrats' re-election chances and improve the odds the GOP will gain the four seats needed to take control of the Senate.

The repeal vote would also let Senate Republicans energize their base by arguing that just a few more Republicans would get them over the top.

As Josh Kraushaar outlined in a National Journal piece, attacking Democrats for their support of President Obama's health care agenda is an important part of the Republican plan to recapture the Senate majority.

It's a path that goes through a number of states, including Nebraska, Montana and Virginia where, respectively, senators Ben Nelson, Jon Tester and Jim Webb face super competitive re-election contests.

An excerpt:

The GOP's most recent recruiting coup was convincing Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., to challenge Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. As the state's at-large representative, Rehberg is a popular figure and already has been on the statewide ballot. Since he was first elected in 2000, he's won at least 59 percent of the vote.

Like many Democratic incumbents in Republican-leaning states, Tester will have to defend his votes on health care and spending. He'll also have to do some fence-mending with progressives, who helped propel him to the nomination in 2006. His vote against the Dream Act led Daily Kos publisher Markos Moulitsas to declare that Tester "is the Blanche Lincoln of 2012—the Democrat I will most be happy to see go down in defeat..."

... Tester is far from the only Democrat who begins the year in a tough situation. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., represents an even more conservative state but has thrived due to the independent image he's carefully cultivated with his support for tax cuts, the Iraq war, and other GOP initiatives. But that changed over the last year after he spent much of 2010 defending his pivotal vote in the push to pass health care reform and took heat for trying to secure funding for his state in exchange for his vote—derisively labeled the "Cornhusker Kickback."

Republican Attorney General Jon Bruning wasted no time entering the race, at the beginning of January. Both Democratic and Republican polling have shown Nelson trailing the GOP candidate.

Meanwhile, Democrats are counting on the GOP efforts backfiring. They plan to continually tout popular provisions in the law, its ending of insurance companies' redlining of people with pre-existing conditions, for instance.

As Alex Bolton reported for The Hill:

Voting for McConnell's amendment could also open Republican candidates, such as Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine), to political scrutiny.

"They are going to have a hard time explaining why they voted to repeal the most popular consumer protections in the law," said a Senate Democratic aide.

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