IRS scandal adds fuel to Obamacare fire
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The House of Representatives passed a measure to repeal Obamacare entirely on Thursday -- a move the GOP-led chamber has done twice already.
But the latest scandal involving the IRS, one of the key agencies charged with enforcing the health care law, is adding fuel to the political fire over the controversial new law.
Congressional Republicans united against the creation of Obamacare in 2010 and have not stopped criticizing it or trying to scrap it since. Thursday's vote was the 37th time the GOP-led House has voted to eliminate all or parts of the law. This time GOP members are directly linking the news that the IRS was inappropriately targeting tea party groups that were seeking tax-exempt status to its battle to get rid of Obamacare. And top leaders are making it clear that railing against the health care law remains a central focus in the next midterm election.
"I've said for some time I think 2014 will be the year of Obamacare, because that's when most of this begins to phase in," Oregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden, who heads the House Republican campaign committee, told CNN on Wednesday.
Walden said the recent developments about the IRS add a new component to the GOP warnings about the problems it sees ahead, "given the politicization of the IRS, as we're beginning to learn the breadth and scope, there will be a lot of angst about the president's health care law."
But Republicans on Capitol Hill say most Americans don't yet realize that the IRS is charged with key parts of Obamacare, including enforcing the mandate that individuals carry health insurance. Now that the agency has lost credibility they plan to capitalize on the increased public attention by calling into question whether the IRS is up to the task.
"I'm deeply concerned with the ability of the agency and the resolve of this agency to lawfully manage this significant undertaking with discretion and with accountability," Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick said on the House floor Thursday.Connecticut Democratic Rep Rosa DeLauro waved off the GOP warning, and told reporters Wednesday that implementation of the health care law is a separate issue from the IRS changing its procedures for dealing with political groups, saying Wednesday, "We can walk and chew gum at the same time."
Given the political potency and fact that Obama is still dogged by the issue, Republicans are determined to continue linking the two issues. Legislation was introduced this week by GOP members in the House and Senate that would block the IRS from getting any new funding to hire personnel to implement Obamacare.
New York Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, who chairs the House Democrats' campaign committee, said voters are tired of the repeated partisan fights over health care and any move to repeal it means taking away benefits people already use.
"Once again, the Republican Congress is wasting taxpayer dollars and trying to put insurance companies back in charge of our care. The consequences are clear: fewer protections for consumers, more health-care related bankruptcies and more money for the insurance companies," Israel said in a written statement.
Democrats also point out that Republicans pledged to "repeal and replace" Obamacare, but have only repeatedly voted to roll it back without any plans for what would be put in its place.
Pressed on that issue at his weekly news conference, House Speaker John Boehner said House GOP members are talking about the issue and expected "in the coming weeks to have a discussion about Obamacare and how we're going to deal with it and what replacement legislation would look like."
Democrats may publicly dismiss this week's vote as another GOP political maneuver, but some admit that putting the new health care system in place could be messy and have negative political fallout for those who voted for it.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the number two House Democrat, conceded Tuesday, "We are concerned about the implementation," telling reporters about Obamacare, "I think it's going to be difficult to implement without glitches, and I would think we'd be surprised if there weren't some glitches."
Last month Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, who was a chief architect of Obamacare in the Senate, told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius he believed the implementation of the new law was going to be a "train wreck" -- making that phrase the new mantra for Republicans. Not long after Baucus made the remarks he announced he would not run for re-election in what would have been a top-tier Senate race.
Democratic Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona, who was narrowly re-elected narrowly in 2012 is one of the main House GOP targets in 2014, and told CNN, "I think we're right to have concerns about implementation because it's a huge lift."
Barber, like most other Democrats, called the GOP repeal vote "just wasted time" and said Congress needs to be focused on fixing the parts of the law he doesn't think are working. The Arizona Democrat is positioning himself for the GOP attacks are sure to keep coming. He has introduced a series of bills to show what parts he wants to repeal, including one getting rid of a tax on medical devices, one eliminating the panel of outsiders to oversee the implementation, and another that stops the current threshold for seniors to deduct medical expenses on their taxes from going up.
Hoyer blamed the GOP for deliberately undermining what was already a complicated task.
"Republicans are doing everything they possibly can to make this program, which is of great benefit to the American people, fail," he said.
While Congressional Democrats, who see their fates tied to how smoothly Obamacare goes into effect, increase pressure on the administration to ensure the law is workable, the GOP is at the ready to highlight every bump in the road between now and the 2014 elections.
"As we were completely shut out of the legislative process they have full ownership of everything that happens in health care -- good and bad," Walden said.
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