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The Energy Behind Repealing Obamacare May Be Ebbing

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, have backed off pushing for repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Win McNamee
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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, have backed off pushing for repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Sure, you can still hear congressional Republicans talking about repealing the Affordable Care Act.

But there's clearly something different about the current climate, and the GOP approach to Obamacare. The thrill of repeal may not be gone for Republicans, but much of the urgency of repeal is.

For starters, the House GOP doesn't have more repeal votes lined up for these weeks after the spring recess.

When Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the House majority leader, recently informed his colleagues what was on their schedule — and thus part of their messaging for the midterm election — the schedule contained no repeal votes.

Instead, he said the House would most likely vote on, among other bills, contempt legislation against former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner for the agency's controversial examination of nonprofit political groups. It might even vote on extending some tax credits. But not an ACA repeal.

And this comes after what seemed like an insatiable hunger for repeal votes. The House has had more than 50 of them.

A recent bipartisan NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted by Democratic and Republican pollsters Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies, indicated that the grass-roots energy behind the repeal effort isn't what it used to be.

Between December and April, support for repealing the law fell 5 percentage points. Since Democratic support for the law has stayed fairly constant, it would be independents and even Republicans who would account for that shift.

Research by Stan Greenberg, a respected Democratic pollster, confirmed this. Greenberg told journalists during a recent teleconference that based on new data, the intensity to repeal the ACA has dropped significantly since December — even in Republican districts.

Meanwhile, the percentage of voters wanting the law to be implemented has risen.

"What's driving this is a dramatic change among independent voters," Greenberg said. "You had in December a majority of independents who were for repeal, 48 percent, with a lot of intensity, that was a painful number. ... Repeal intensity has dropped from 48 to 39 percent."

Another recent survey, a tracking poll done for the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that 58 percent of voters wanted Congress to fix the law instead of repeal it. About 35 percent supported repeal.

Part of what is going on is that, after a notably shaky start with the flawed HealthCare.gov website, the ACA has had some real or perceived successes.

More than 8 million people signed up for health insurance, exceeding the administration's publicly stated goal. And many of the problems with the federal health exchange were fixed.

The repeal effort was also significantly damaged by last year's partial government shutdown. Some Republicans had urged the shutdown, arguing it would force Obama to consider undoing his signature domestic policy achievement.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other Republican leaders never bought that logic but allowed those GOP voices to have their way, at least initially.

While the energy for repealing the health law may have receded from where it was two or three years ago, that's not to say that it has turned the corner in public perception — far from it.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found plenty of reasons for President Obama and congressional Democrats to be worried about the vibes surrounding the law during this midterm election year. A plurality of Americans still find the law not living up to their expectations — a Pew Research/USA Today poll released Monday reports just 41 percent approve of the ACA, compared with 55 percent who disapprove.

That's a sure danger sign for Democrats in 2014.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.