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Health care reform repeal: Does GOP really mean it?

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Charles Dharapak/AP

(Read caption) Icicles form as the West Front of the Capitol is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 18. The Republican-led House of Representatives will vote this week on repealing President Obama’s health care reform legislation.

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The Republican-led House of Representatives will vote this week on repealing President Obama’s health care reform legislation. But even if House members approve repeal (which seems likely), their Senate colleagues probably will not. And Mr. Obama would certainly veto the undoing of his signature domestic initiative if it actually reached his desk.

So why bother? Is the GOP really serious about repeal? Or is the vote just for show?

To a certain extent the repeal vote, indeed, is political theater. The Republican leadership is planning only a single day of debate on the subject prior to the roll call. They did not schedule committee hearings on the subject, which would have dragged out media and public attention to ending “Obamacare.” It’ll be a quick up-or-down, yes-or-no, and then let’s move on to a subject Americans are more interested in: the economy.

In that sense, the vote may serve more as a symbolic break with the old Democratic House of Speaker Nancy Pelosi than an actual attempt at changing the law of the land.

“It is, of course, a campaign promise kept to the political right. It is also a signal from the Republican leadership that they plan to continue to use opposition to the health reform law as a rallying point for their political base,” writes Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, in an analysis of the meaning of the repeal effort.

There is certainly strong opposition to the Obama health-care reforms in America in general, and in the Republican Party in particular. But the strength and intensity of that opposition have actually diminished since the midterm elections, according to an Associated Press poll.

Overall, 41 percent of respondents oppose the health-care reform law, down from 47 percent last November. Currently, 40 percent support health-care reform, according to the AP survey findings.

But only about 25 percent of respondents said the law should actually be repealed. Among Republicans, support for repeal has dropped sharply, from 61 percent after the elections to 49 percent now, according to AP.

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That said, there are House GOP lawmakers who insist that this week’s repeal vote is not just a symbol.

Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa, a strong voice in the repeal effort, says that he believes repeal could actually pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, because of pressure from the many lawmakers worried about their reelection chances in 2012.

“There’s a tremendous amount of momentum here,” said Representative King in a Fox News interview on Monday.

The GOP then would work to defund the health-care effort in appropriations bills, King said. A Republican victory in the 2012 White House race would then enable a new GOP chief executive to sign repeal as his or her first act in 2013.

“That’s my scenario,” said King.

Moving forward, House committees under the Republicans probably will work on developing replacement bills for certain parts of the Obama health-care reforms, such as the penalties for Americans who don’t have health insurance.

Democrats, for their part, are likely to play defense by continuing to highlight aspects of the Obama reforms that are popular, such as insistence that insurers must cover those with preexisting health conditions.

“We need to keep our country moving forward, not go back,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

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