Activists slowly chip away at health-care law

The Senate has rejected a GOP attempt to repeal the year-old health care law. All 47 Republicans voted for repeal, but 50 Democrats and one Independent voted to leave it in place. Many think the law's fate will be decided by the Supreme Court. (Feb. 2)
The Senate defeated the Republican effort to repeal the health-care law
The Washington Post
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 3, 2011; 5:32 PM

For Marilyn Shacter, 66, a homemaker and tea party activist in Raleigh, N.C., the Senate's vote to repeal the national health-care overhaul was anything but symbolic - no matter how shy the final tally.

Wednesday's vote was another in a series of steps to overturn a law that Shacter and others say eventually will fall. It put Democrats who might be vulnerable in 2012 on record voting against repeal. And it gave tens of thousands of activists still fuming over the health-care legislation a reason to stay passionate, engaged and organized.

"I think it definitely will happen," Shacter said in a telephone interview Wednesday, the sound of Rush Limbaugh's radio show audible in the background. "It may take until 2012, or after 2012, when we get rid of Mr. Obama and a lot of these borderline senators that are up for reelection are replaced."

The effort to block, repeal or merely chip away at the health-care law has exploded into a single-minded political industry since Congress and state legislatures across the nation began convening last month. Twenty-eight states have filed or signed onto lawsuits challenging the measure. Thirty-eight legislatures are considering state laws to curtail its effects. Operatives and organizers are spraying their membership lists with action alerts and calls to arms. And an army of activists is writing e-mails and making phone calls to urge state and federal lawmakers to take the measure down.

"Repeal is real," said Dean Clancy of FreedomWorks, a free-market organization that helps mobilize tea parties and gives advice to conservative members of Congress. "This vote shows that the health-care issue has gone from being a mere policy debate to something bigger and more political. And while the repeal forces may lose the vote today, the fact of the vote says that this issue isn't going away. Repeal will continue to be an issue right through the 2012 elections."

Operatives and activists across the country view the success of the court challenges or the legislative efforts as within reach. If anything, the failure of this week's push for repeal keeps grass-roots energy at a fever pitch, they say. The operatives, in turn, hope to keep that energy alive between now and 2012.

"Any time you do grass roots, the farther you get away from votes taken, bills proposed, the harder we have to work to remind people why they should be involved," said Dallas Woodhouse, who leads the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, another free-market organization that helps organize activists. "But with this health-care thing, the people are still energized. In the activist world, it's shooting fish in a barrel. They want this."

Woodhouse described the response to an e-mail he sent to the group's 50,000 members. It urged them to contact state lawmakers and ask them to support legislation that would require the state's attorney general to join a lawsuit against the health-care legislation. More than 10,000 e-mails went out to lawmakers through the form that Woodhouse provided. The North Carolina bill passed Wednesday.

Similarly, the Ohio Liberty Council, a local tea party network based in Cincinnati, has collected more than 300,000 signatures to add to the ballot a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would guarantee the right of Ohio residents to choose whether to buy health care.

"This is going to go through," said Chris Littleton, a founder of the group.

Operatives are also playing an inside game, advising members of Congress on how to bring up repeal. Before the Senate vote Wednesday, they urged new members elected on the tea party wave to keep the pressure on Republican leaders. Former House majority leader Richard K. Armey, now chairman of FreedomWorks, met directly with Republican House leaders to urge a vote on the issue earlier this year.

The most passionate objection to the health-care measure is to the individual mandate - the provision that will require individuals, by 2014, to purchase health coverage or face fines if they do not. But national groups are busy reminding their activist base of the broader themes that also resonated during the heat of the debate last year.

"People don't like Obamacare in general," said Clancy, from FreedomWorks. "The whole approach was offensive to people. And their concerns have been reinforced by the ugly process by which it passed."

"Those who support the law," Clancy added, "dismiss this movement at their political peril."

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