Saturday marks the Affordable Care Act's third anniversary — and with it, the third anniversary of Republican efforts to undo the law.
The future of the law, which fueled the Tea Party's rise and cost Democrats control of the House, was for a long time in doubt. But after the Supreme Court upheld it, and President Obama won re-election in convincing fashion, calls for repeal have grown noticeably quieter.
Republicans still say they oppose the law, and have backed that talk with votes to defund all or part it. In the latest such instance, they passed Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wisc.) budget, which cut funding for the program. Yet that legislation was clearly more about trimming the budget as a whole than it was an assault on ObamaCare specifically.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) introduced the first bill of this legislative session, one that would fully repeal ObamaCare. It's the same bill she has rolled out twice before, but unlike years past, Bachmann couldn't find a single co-sponsor this time around. So while she denounced the law on the House floor on Wednesday, saying it "literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens," she did so with a much smaller coalition backing her up.
So what changed? Was Republican opposition silenced by those mysterious death panels?
For one, Obama won re-election. Republicans had held out hope that a Romney presidency would give them enough power to nix the law. With Democrats not only holding the White House and the Senate, but picking up seats in the House, a repeal effort was no longer in the realm of possibility. Responding to those losses in November, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) acknowledged that "ObamaCare is the law of the land."
The GOP's losses in the House corresponded with a decline in support for the Tea Party, which was at the height of its power in 2010. The Tea Party Caucus, launched with much fanfare that year, has become effectively defunct; they haven't held a meeting since July. The group lost firebrand Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) to the 2012 elections. And Bachmann, despite a high-profile presidential campaign and a $26 million fundraising haul, barely won her re-election bid.
As for Republicans on the whole, they've been partly sated by concessions in recent spending deals.
Republicans have gotten more strategic about ObamaCare repeal and more realistic. They took, as part of the fiscal cliff deal, a couple of chunks out of the PPACA, most notably funding for the CLASS Act, which proved to be an unworkable premium support for at-home care...The era of flashy repeal stunts is over. [Slate]
Voters have dialed back their opposition as well. Polls have found Americans gradually warming to the law, though a slight majority remains opposed to it. At the same time, the budget has superseded almost all other political discourse, and lawmakers are gearing up for a separate crop of contentious legislation on guns and immigration.
For now, Republicans seem content to oppose the law with merely symbolic gestures. That was the case in January when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced a repeal bill in the Senate, while conceding it had no chance of going anywhere.
"Unfortunately, this bill will not pass in the current Congress," he said in a statement, "but I will continue working hard until we have the votes to repeal ObamaCare in its entirety."
Republicans may never embrace ObamaCare, but they have at least begun to accept it as law. And, with a few exceptions, they've shown they're ready to move on.
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