Congress Gets Back to Business, Starting With Repeal of Health Care Law

BY Bridget Desimone  January 18, 2011 at 8:43 AM EST

U.S. Capitol

The U.S. Capitol. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

The House of Representatives returns to work Tuesday after putting legislative business on hold for a week to reflect on the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson, Ariz., that left six people dead and 13 others wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The first order of business, which originally had been scheduled for last Wednesday: Repeal the health care law enacted last year. Republicans have dubbed the effort “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act,” although House Speaker John Boehner, for one, has turned down the rhetoric just a touch in the wake of the Tucson tragedy, referring instead to the health care law as “job crushing” or “job destroying.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have branded the GOP’s push “The Patient’s Rights Repeal Act” and initiated a full-court press Tuesday to tout what they consider the many positives of the law and point out how beneficiaries would be adversely affected if the repeal effort is successful.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and members of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will meet Tuesday with parents of young children and young adults, people with pre-existing conditions, seniors and others. The individuals are expected to testify about “the real-life effects of undoing critical patient protections,” according to a release from Pelosi’s office.

The response from the left will also include a Democratic National Committee conference call with Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and Joe Crowley, D-N.Y.

The Department of Health and Human Services also plans to release a study Tuesday that finds that as many as 129 million Americans under the age of 65 have pre-existing medical conditions, a figure Democrats on the Hill will no doubt have at the ready for any public statements on the repeal effort.

Democrats appear to be relishing the renewed focus on health care, not even 12 months removed from a bruising year-long battle over the policy. “We welcome, in a certain sense, their attempt to repeal it because it gives us a second chance to make a first impression,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

But making a different impression could be difficult. A poll released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University found 48 percent favor repeal, compared to 43 percent who oppose the effort. That contrasted with a newly released Associated Press poll, which found that 62 of those surveyed wanted to leave the law as is or expand it, while just 36 percent wished to see the law repealed or scaled back.

A final vote on the repeal bill in the House is expected Wednesday, although the effort’s prospects in the Senate are dim, at best, with Democrats still holding a 53-to-47 majority.

PALIN: ‘THEY’RE NOT GOING TO SHUT ME UP’

For the first time since the shootings in Tucson 10 days ago, former vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin answered questions about her reaction to critics who attempted to link her political tactics and rhetoric to the shooter’s motives.

Appearing on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel program, Palin grouped herself with conservative commentators, including Rush Limbaugh, Hannity and Mark Levin, all of whom have been criticized for their heated rhetoric in the aftermath of the shootings.

“I will continue to speak out. They’re not going to shut me up. They’re not going to shut you up. They can’t make us sit down and shut up,” Palin said.

The interview was clearly designed to be a second attempt to dispatch with the so-far baseless claims that Palin’s political actions or words had anything to do with Jared Loughner’s rampage.

After taking a heap of criticism for what was widely seen as an off-tone web video posted to her Facebook page on the day of the public memorial in Tucson last week, Palin sought time and again in the interview with Hannity to say the story was not about her and dispel any notion that she is playing victim.

As for the graphic her PAC used picturing cross hairs as targets over congressional districts, including the one Rep. Giffords, D-Ariz., represents, Palin made no apologies. She said she was not the first to employ a graphic with that kind of imagery in a political context.

“I think it’s going to be very tough and even futile to really start censoring everyone’s speech or icons,” she said.

She went on to say that nobody knew whether or not she knew the anti-Semitic connotation associated with the expression “blood libel,” which caused consternation among some Jewish groups when she used the term in her internet video. And she expressed no regrets for using the term.

“Blood libel obviously means being falsely accused of having blood on your hands, and in this case that’s exactly what was going on,” Palin said.

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll out Tuesday shows poor reviews for Palin’s performance handling the Tucson tragedy.

“[She] draws more negative than positive evaluations of the way she has handled the tragedy,” write the Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Jon Cohen. “About 30 percent give her positive marks, while nearly half — 46 percent — disapprove of her actions. About a quarter in the poll expressed no opinion. Fewer than half of all Republicans approve of Palin’s handling of the matter, with positive marks rising to just 56 percent among conservative Republicans.”

That is in stark contrast to the overwhelming support given to President Obama for his handling of the Tucson shootings. Nearly eight in ten of those polled approve of the president’s response.

CHENEY SPEAKS

In an interview with NBC’s Jamie Gangel, former vice president Dick Cheney said he continues to believe President Obama will be a one-term president.

“I think he embarked upon a course of action when he became president that did not have as much support as he thought it did,” Cheney said. “That once he got into the business, for example, of the healthcare reform. I think he’s enacted a program that a great many people are very worried about. And that there’s a lot of support out there for the effort to repeal that healthcare package.

“I think his overall approach to expanding the size of government, expanding the deficit, and giving more and more authority and power to the government over the private sector is a lack of — sort of a feel for the role of the private sector in — in creating jobs, in creating wealth and getting our economy back on track. Those are all weaknesses, as I look at Barack Obama. And I think he’ll be a one-term president.”

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It was Cheney’s first television interview since his latest round of heart surgery last summer, which requires him to carry a heart-pumping device with him at all times.

It seems, however, Cheney can be included in the 71 percent of Republicans who give President Obama a thumbs-up for his leadership in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings.

“I thought the president handled it well. I’m not an Obama supporter by nature, but I thought it was one of his better efforts,” Cheney said of the president’s speech at the memorial service last week.

He also appeared to be fully available for a 2012 primary season endorsement should his eventual candidate of choice want it.

“I’m not going to get in the business of saying this one is and this one isn’t,” Cheney responded when asked if he thought Palin is qualified to be president. “I’ll be happy to participate in that process when the time is right,” he added.

He teased his upcoming (fall publication) book on his years in the Bush White House and said any regrets he has from his time as vice president will be documented there.

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