By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2010; A04
Even as House Democrats search for the votes to send a health-care reform bill to President Obama, dozens of Republican lawmakers and candidates have signed a pledge to back an effort to repeal the measure, should the GOP take control of either chamber of Congress after this fall's elections.
Sparked by the conservative activist group Club for Growth, the "Repeal It" movement first won the backing of some of the most conservative Republicans in Congress, including Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), and has expanded to include some of the party's Senate candidates in liberal-leaning states such as New Hampshire and Illinois. In all, 37 House and Senate members and 163 congressional candidates have signed the pledge.
As congressional Republicans battle Democrats over the House procedures that could be used to pass the bill, they are promising to carry the debate over its substance into the November elections, even though both parties acknowledge repeal would be highly unlikely as long as Obama remains in office.
While the GOP awaits the outcome of competitive primaries in many states, all of its major Senate hopefuls in Kentucky, Nevada, Kansas and Missouri have pledged to "sponsor and support legislation to repeal any federal health-care takeover passed in 2010, and replace it with real reforms that lower health-care costs without growing government."
Republican leaders have played down the largely grass-roots pledge, saying they want to focus on ensuring that the health-care reform bill is stopped from becoming law. But Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), a favorite of the "tea party" movement, said, "This would be smart politically, and it's the right thing to do."
Some Democrats view the unfolding political conversation with glee. They say the health-care bill will become more popular once Obama signs it, particularly because some of the provisions most favored by the public would go into effect this year, such as allowing young adults to stay covered by their parents' health-care plans to age 26.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is calling on its candidates to demand that their GOP opponents take a stand on the pledge. Asked about the GOP idea, David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser, said Sunday, "Let's have that fight." He added of GOP threats to call for the law's repeal: "Make my day."
Other Democrats dispute the idea that the bill will help the party in the fall. Pollsters Patrick H. Caddell and Douglas E. Schoen have written that Democrats "will be punished severely at the polls" unless they turn around the current negative perceptions of the health-care bill.
Republicans contend the public has already soured on the bill and is likely to remain concerned into November.
"Democrats think by passing the bill they'll be able to get it behind them and change the subject to something else, like jobs," said Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "But this will do the opposite. This will make sure health care is the number one issue that the election is won or lost on in November."