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The end of the beginning

"The end of the beginning" Continued...

Issue: "O Jerusalem," April 10, 2010

Even a Democratic governor, Tennessee's Phil Bredesen, worries that his state will not be able to pay the estimated $1.1 billion five-year bill to do what the new law requires. "These are hard dollars and make the management of our finances post-recession even more daunting," Bredesen wrote in a letter to his Tennessee congressional delegation.

The Tenth Amendment Center's Boldin sees greater hope in the state law approach. The federal government has delayed three times since its 2005 enactment the implementation of another mandate, the REAL ID Act that imposes federal standards on state drivers licenses, because so many states simply have refused to comply.

While states gear up their responses, current and hopeful congressional Republicans have unleashed their own post-healthcare rallying cry: repeal.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has already unveiled legislation to repeal the law. A dozen other Republican senators joined DeMint as co-sponsors on the bill's first day. "This fight isn't over yet," said DeMint.

But it didn't take long for Republicans to tweak that message. Fearing that they would continue to be branded as "the party of no," GOP lawmakers, who also acknowledge that healthcare needs fixing, are now calling for a "repeal and replace" strategy. Some are also talking up "reveal"-wanting more Americans to know what's in the legislation.

To succeed at anything, Republicans will need more bodies in Congress. That is why dozens of GOP challengers across the nation wasted no time going on the offensive after the overhaul passed.

"I promise the very first act I will take as a congressman will be to repeal this trillion-dollar, job-killing, healthcare damaging legislation," Republican Rob Russo, seeking to unseat freshman Democratic Rep. Jim Himes in Connecticut's 4th District, announced in a press release hours after the House vote. Candidates from states including Kansas, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Idaho and Florida made similar pledges.

"This fall's elections will be a referendum on Obamacare," the Heritage Foundation's Brian Darling told me.

But even if Republicans manage to take back majorities in both the House and Senate-no small task-any repeal legislation would face an Obama veto. That is why Darling says Republicans in Congress would work to delay its implementation by defunding key elements of the healthcare program in must-pass appropriation bills.

"If Republicans control Congress, they control the power of the purse," Darling said.

Obama seems to sense this: He took to the road on March 25, stopping in Iowa City for an unusual pep rally for a bill that has already become law. Expect more such trips. As Democrats try to sell the changes, Republicans feel they have an advantage in the public-relations battle because most of the law's entitlements don't kick in for a few years while most of its new taxes start sooner.

Overhaul advocates have already launched a $5 million ad campaign to promote the new law in 40 congressional districts where Democrats are vulnerable. This blitz took a hit late in the week as the nation learned that top Hill staffers, many of whom sit on the very committees that wrote the bill, are exempt from the new government-run insurance exchanges it creates. Expect additional backlash as more of the 2,309-page bill is decoded.

As lawmakers gathered in the White House's East Room for the ceremony signing the measure into law, they serenaded Obama with chants of "fired up" and "ready to go." But those same chants could be attributed to conservative groups and lawmakers who are not willing to wave the healthcare white flag. Obama said the law puts a "new wind at our backs because we know it's still possible to do big things in America."

But those very words, "big things," are what has many conservatives fearful of increased government regulatory overreach in environment, energy, education, and financial reform.

That is why the overhaul's passage has at least one silver lining for Republicans: It firms up what has been a somewhat tenuous relationship with the growing Tea Party movement. Media accounts have been quick to write off the movement after it lost on healthcare. Even though the U.S. Capitol police made no arrests that day, words like hideous, clowns, and disgraceful were used by liberals to depict the Sunday protests leading up to the House's climactic vote.

But Mark Meckler, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, said the healthcare defeat has energized, not deflated the movement. New members of his group have been signing up online at a rate of 1,000 an hour since the bill became law.

"They have been trying to force our premature obituary since February of last year," Meckler told me. "Tell me how that is working out for them in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts."

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