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Analysis: To GOP, all roads lead to health care

By David Espo
Associated Press

WASHINGTON: All roads lead to the Affordable Care Act for Republicans.

So much so that they acted like they had barely hit a small speed bump when Democrats voted unilaterally Thursday to weaken century-old Senate filibuster rules and make it harder for the GOP to block confirmation of President Barack Obama’s nominees.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., with his eyes on the political road ahead and a GOP-damaging partial government shutdown in the rearview mirror, chalked the Senate shift up to “broken promises, double standards and raw power — the same playbook that got us Obamacare.”

The calculation seems to be that there will be time for Republicans to retaliate for the Democratic maneuver that swept away generations of precedent in the tradition-bound Senate. The change didn’t eliminate filibusters, and a spirit of revenge actually may give the GOP an incentive to launch them in greater numbers.

But not now, when the health-care law is seen ever less favorably by the public, and has dragged the president’s approval ratings to the lowest levels of his time in the White House.

Each time McConnell mentions the shift in Senate procedure, he’s tugged back to health care.

“It’s basically the same debate,” he said Thursday, adding that Democrats are trying to shift the public’s attention away from the president’s health-care overhaul.

He singled out Sen. Jeff Merkley. “If I were a senator from Oregon, which hasn’t enrolled a single person yet for its Obamacare exchange, I would probably want to shift the focus, too,” McConnell said.

Merkley is one of several Democrats seeking re-election next year who are so dismayed by the administration’s performance on health care that they support legislation to weaken a core concept of the program. Asked about McConnell’s remarks, he concentrated on GOP filibusters: “Let’s focus on the reality — the American people want this institution to function.”

The health-care bill he supports would require insurance companies to continue selling coverage permanently that is deemed substandard under the health-care law.

The short-term effect would be to reverse millions of cancellations that insurance companies have sent out to consumers in recent weeks. Also, to permit the bill’s backers to claim political credit for easing any pain on constituents.

The longer-term consequence would likely be higher costs for millions of consumers seeking coverage that meets the health-care law’s standards.

In the Senate, it is unclear if Democratic leaders can keep their restless rank and file from demanding a vote to change the health-care law in December.

According to several lawmakers and aides, that will depend in part on the speed of the recovery of the poorly performing website, which suffered from a three-hour lapse in service on Wednesday. It will hinge also on a political calculation, whether Democrats seeking new terms believe they must be seen voting on something — almost anything — to fix the problem.