Republicans Renew Calls To Repeal Health Care Law

After big wins in Tuesday's elections, Republicans are again calling for the repeal of Obama's health care overhaul. Could it happen?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The Republicans who won control of the House last night face the question of how to work with President Obama. For Mike Pence, the answer is already clear. The Indiana congressman is one of the leading House Republicans and spoke last night with NPR News.

Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): We're certainly always going to look for areas of authentic agreement and authentic common ground. But I think the American people are saying that they want no compromise on higher taxes on any American, no compromise on ending runaway federal spending, bailouts, no compromise on repealing Obamacare - lock, stock and barrel.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about the last item that Congressman Pence mentioned there: the health care law signed this year by President Obama. NPR's Julie Rovner covered the passage of that law and will soon by covering the effort to repeal it. Hi, Julie.

JULIE ROVNER: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are the odds of Republicans succeeding in repealing this law?

ROVNER: Well, probably zero. After all, they may control the House, but they don't control the Senate. And even if they did, President Obama would veto it and they don't have the votes to override that veto.

INSKEEP: But Republicans can at least call a vote in the House and then repeal it that far. Can that put pressure on Democrats?

ROVNER: It could, or - but it probably won't now because the only Democrats who would really be worried about it are Democrats in Republican districts. And there really aren't any more Democrats in Republican districts.

INSKEEP: They're gone. They lost last night.

ROVNER: They all lost. And, you know, if you look at the polls, what you find is that Republicans are very much opposed to it, but Democrats are very much in support of the law. So it's really not that hard for Democrats to remain supportive of this health law.

INSKEEP: The Democrats who are left will be willing to fight for it or not face a big cost for it. Are there risks for Republicans in trying to repeal this, given that, although there were many objections to the law, parts of it are popular?

ROVNER: You would certainly think so. You know, even in those polls that say that the law as a whole is unpopular and there are significant numbers of people who would like to see it repealed, when you go down and then list many of the things in this law, those same people who say they'd like to see it repealed suddenly would not like to see repealed a lot of those provisions. Things like allowing people to keep their children, their adult children up to age 26 on their health plan.

So there are provisions of the law that remain very popular that people would like to keep.

INSKEEP: Can Republicans just leave the law on the books but then defund it, refuse to pay for parts of it?

ROVNER: Well, that's not so easy. A lot of the funding for this law is automatic. So some of the things that they could defund are some of the smaller things, and they may try to do that, but the main parts of the law would be very difficult to defund.

INSKEEP: Can they hack out parts of the bill they don't like and leave the rest of it alone?

ROVNER: That's, again, a possibility. There are some provisions that have to do with public health and other things that are not central to the main part of the bill about covering people and, you know, making sure that insurance companies play right in the market. But that's not a central portion of what the law does going forward.

INSKEEP: OK. So what else can Republicans do?

ROVNER: Well, what most people expect Republicans to do is now that they have control back over the committees, is they're going to have a lot of hearings. And they're going to drag people who are trying to implement this bill in the Department of Health and Human Services up to Capitol Hill to testify.

Now, that could be a double-edged sword too because one of the things that we know is that people don't quite understand what's in this law yet. You have all of these hearings, there's a chance that people will find out more about what's in this law and they may like it better.

INSKEEP: One question here, Julie Rovner - everyone's anticipating a lot of conflict but I wonder if it's possible that by pushing and testing this law and perhaps changing it here and there where they can, is there a possibility that Republicans might actually make this law better?

ROVNER: You know, when this law passed, everybody knew, including the people who wrote it, that there would have to be follow-ups, what they call technical corrections, that there would be a lot of unintended consequences. Nothing this big is ever going to go untouched. So I think the answer is yes. There is the possibility if people do want to work together, there are things that will need to be fixed. And you never know, they might actually work together and figure what needs to be fixed and fix it.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie Rovner, thanks very much.

ROVNER: You're welcome.

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