Congressional Republicans spent four years joyfully seizing every opportunity to attack Obamacare and call for its repeal.
Since the health care law blew past its 7 million sign-ups target last month, Republican leaders have been noticeably more restrained in the way they talk about it, ratcheting down their public calls for repeal. Action has also slowed.
In the House, the GOP’s spring 2014 legislative agenda — as outlined in an April 25 memo by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) — doesn’t include any action on Obamacare. Instead the memo highlights prior bills the House has taken to chip away at the law and makes a passing mention of “replacing Obamacare with policies that improve patient choice, access to doctors and hospitals, and lower costs.” (Republicans aren’t close to settling on a replacement plan.)
House committee hearings on Obamacare are scant, with none currently scheduled. Notably, one of the House GOP’s few recent hearings aimed at going after the law backfired when insurance industry executives declined to validate their warnings that premiums would rise in 2015.
In the Senate, Republicans last week jettisoned an opportunity to bash the law when considering the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to lead the department charged with implementing it. This week they’re attempting to use a pending tax-cut bill as a vehicle to eliminate Obamacare’s medical device tax, a nonessential component of the law which some Democrats also want to scrap.
In a shift that has been particularly noticeable to congressional reporters, House and Senate Republicans leaders have also steered clear of attacking Obamacare in their opening remarks at press conferences. It used to be unheard of for weekly GOP leadership news conferences to exclude attacks on Obamacare — now it’s common.
None of this means Republicans are ready to embrace the law. The party’s official position remains “repeal and replace” and it has continued to highlight Obamacare’s flaws and negative side-effects on the road to the 2014 elections. But the strategy has shifted from a years-long push for its total destruction to a more tactical highlighting of unflattering anecdotes.
The GOP’s pivot comes amid growing intra-party tension over how to deal with the law. Independent conservative experts warn that Obamacare won’t collapse on its own and that repealing it is no longer feasible as it would strip benefits from millions of Americans. It also comes after some anti-Obamacare claims on the right turned out to be inaccurate or failed to stand up to scrutiny.
The diminishing focus on Obamacare has made way for a redoubling of GOP efforts to target the administration over scandals: the House voted last week to set up a select committee to investigate the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi and to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt.