GOP's Rude Awakening on Health Care Repeal

Wednesday's vote to repeal President Obama's health insurance reform law was supposed to be a crowning triumph. Did it turn out that way? Not so much, says Eugene Robinson.

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House Speaker John Boehner (Mark Wilson/Getty)

By Eugene Robinson

This whole health-care thing isn't quite working out the way Republicans planned. My guess is that they'll soon try to change the subject -- but I'm afraid they're already in too deep.

Wednesday's vote to repeal President Obama's health insurance reform law was supposed to be a crowning triumph. We heard confident GOP predictions that cowed Democrats would defect in droves, generating unstoppable momentum that forced the Senate to obey "the will of the people" and follow suit. The Democrats' biggest domestic accomplishment would be in ruins and Obama's political standing would be damaged, perhaps irreparably.

What actually happened, though, is that the Republican majority managed to win the votes of just three Democrats -- all of them Blue Dogs who have been consistent opponents of the reform package anyway. In terms of actual defectors, meaning Democrats who changed sides on the issue, there were none. This is momentum?

The unimpressive vote came at a moment when "the will of the people" on health care is coming into sharper focus. Most polls that offer a simple binary choice -- do you like the "Obamacare" law or not -- show that the reforms remain narrowly unpopular. Yet a significant fraction of those who are unhappy complain not that the reform law went too far but that it didn't go far enough. I think of these people as the "public option" crowd.

A recent Associated Press poll found that 41 percent of those surveyed opposed the reform law and 40 percent supported it. But when asked what Congress should do, 43 percent said the law should be modified so that it does more to change the health-care system. Another 19 percent said it should be left as it is.

More troubling for the GOP, the AP poll found that just 26 percent of respondents wanted Congress to repeal the reform law completely. A recent Washington Post poll found support for outright repeal at 18 percent; a Marist poll pegged it at 30 percent.

In other words, what House Republicans just voted to do may be the will of the Tea Party, but it's not "the will of the people."