House Republicans voted Thursday to repeal ObamaCare — for the 37th time. But this vote was slightly different, with the GOP framing the legislation as a means to prevent the Internal Revenue Service from interfering in private health decisions.
It's part of a concerted effort by Republicans to tie ObamaCare to the ongoing IRS scandal, in which low-level employees have been accused of flagging Tea Party and other conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status. The connection? The IRS is responsible for implementing and enforcing aspects of President Obama's health-care reform law, which contains a whole host of new tax credits and penalties.
The GOP furor was magnified by the news that Sarah Hall Ingram, the IRS official who supervised the division that singled out conservative nonprofits for special scrutiny, now runs the IRS office responsible for overseeing ObamaCare. The nightmare scenarios that have been suggested by Republicans run from IRS agents peeking into conservatives' medical records, to the denial of care based on a person's political or religious beliefs.
"Knowing it's the IRS who will be the enforcing mechanism for this new entitlement program of ObamaCare," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), "it is very important to ask — and now it is reasonable to ask — could there be potential political implications of access to health care, denial of health care?"
The scandal prompted conservative commentators to endorse the "Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act" introduced by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). As Dana Loesch put it at RedState, "The very official who oversaw rampant discrimination and illegal persecution is in charge of ObamaCare. Do you trust these people to allow you the best care possible? I don't."
Erick Erickson, also at RedState, says the scandal proves that the IRS, which is hiring legions of new agents to enforce ObamaCare, "cannot be trusted to do the job."
We have the recipe in this for a conservative resurgence. We should not get distracted by the shiny object. We should seize it and harness it for our own ends. They tried to shut down the conservative movement and we should now use those actions to shut down ObamaCare. [RedState]
But some commentators argue that the issue could backfire on Republicans if they take the link between ObamaCare and the scandal-plagued IRS too far. "The IRS' conduct was inexcusable and should be fully and completely investigated," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. But "the IRS scandal does not make the broader case against liberal governance that Republicans are trying to weave out of it." By forcing the issue, Sargent says, Republicans are defeating their own cause:
Even if ObamaCare remains unpopular, it's unclear that the American mainstream sees expanding insurance to those who lack it, and reining in insurance company excesses, as an illegitimate exercise of government authority. Tying it to an ongoing scandal — one that by itself has the virtue of being politically very easy to grasp — risks turning the whole argument into something confused and ideological. [Washington Post]
Even some conservatives, including the editors of National Review, are warning Republicans not to overreach by suggesting that the IRS case and a flurry of other scandals are grounds for Obama's impeachment.
According to Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo, however, hardline conservatives, including Bachmann, are doing just that, turning the scandal into a battle between ObamaCare and the Tea Party. It's a fight conservatives won't win, Beutler says:
Almost nobody likes the tea party. Many of them won’t understand why tea party groups should be tax exempt, or won't take too well to Republican special pleading on the tea party’s behalf. And if they allow the right to turn the IRS scandal into a Tea Party Grievance, they’ll own all the hyperbole and unintended consequences that flow forth from that identity, and lose the issue. [Talking Points Memo]