WASHINGTON — Top Republicans are starting to worry about their health care rallying cry "Repeal the bill." It just might singe GOP candidates in November's elections, they fear, if voters begin to see benefits from the new law.
Democrats, hoping the GOP is indeed positioning itself too far to the right for the elections, are taking note of every Republican who pledges to fight for repeal. Such a pledge might work well in conservative-dominated Republican primaries, they say, but could backfire when more moderate voters turn out.
In Illinois, where there's a spirited battle to fill the Senate seat President Barack Obama once held, Republican Mark Kirk recently said he would "lead the effort" to repeal the measure. But on Tuesday, Kirk would say only that he opposes the new taxes and Medicare cuts associated with the law.
And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which fiercely opposed Obama's health legislation, now urges a "more effective approach" of trying to "minimize its harmful impacts."
For Republicans, urging a full repeal of the law will energize conservative activists whose turnout is crucial this year. But it also carries risks, say strategists in both parties. Repeal is politically and legally unlikely, and grass-roots activists may feel disillusioned by a failed crusade.
"It's just not going to happen," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said of repeal in a speech Wednesday. "It's a great political issue," he said, but opponents will never muster the 67 votes needed in the 100-member Senate.
Over the next few months, Democrats say, Americans will learn of the new law's benefits, and anger over its messy legislative passage may fade.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who chairs the committee responsible for electing GOP senators this fall, said in an interview, "The focus really should be on the misplaced priorities of the administration" and Congress' Democratic leaders.
Three weeks ago, Cornyn told reporters he thought GOP Senate candidates would and should run on a platform of repealing the legislation.
Obama said last week he would relish a Republican bid to repeal the new law.
"If these congressmen in Washington want to come here in Iowa and tell small-business owners that they plan to take away their tax credits and essentially raise their taxes, be my guest," Obama said.
Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said his team began pressing Republican candidates months ago to state whether they support repeal of the health care legislation. Most of them have, and Democrats plan to use it against them this fall.