The GOP Storm on Health Care Begins to Subside

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With the help of TIME’s Katy Steinmetz:

The last few weeks Senate Republicans were all sturm und drang.  “The American people are getting tired of this crap,” Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican told ABC’s This Week. “If [Democrats do reconciliation], it’s going to poison the well for anything else they would like to achieve this year or thereafter.” Stories were written about how they’d bring down the bill in the Senate, drag out the process, kill the bill.

This week, as President Obama basks in the glow of finally getting health care passed the reconciliation fixes sent to the Senate seem not quite so life-and-death. After all, the Tea Party activists have all gone home, the bill has been signed in to law and many of the fixes – such as the stripping out of sweetheart deals – are popular on both sides of the aisle. “I’m not willing to go so far yet as” to write off all bipartisan cooperation, Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who heads the NRSC, told reporters today. “I still hope that on things like financial regulatory reform we’ll be able to see some bipartisan cooperation.

Republicans seem to realize they have lost the momentum, if not the narrative. “What does [filibustering by amendment] do? All that does is, you beat your own drum but you don’t accomplish anything,” said Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who once said he planned to offer hundreds amendments – his office now says it’ll be more like a few dozen. “We’re not up here to delay. If we can’t win, we can’t win.” Nearly everyone thinks the Senate will adjourn by the end of the week for their Easter recess as planned.

Calls for total repeal have been tempered, though South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint has still introduced legislation for a full repeal that has next to no change of passing. “At this moment it’s not realistic because Barack Obama would veto the bill and we don’t have the votes to override it,” Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters today. “But from the politically standpoint beginning the process is not a bad thing as long as we realize that it’s going to take a long time. And it may be possible to repeal parts of the bill but not the whole bill.”

The new GOP catch phrase is “repeal and replace.” The idea is to use amendments to strike the GOP’s least favorite features of the package, such as tax increases, during reconciliation and beyond. This avoids repealing popular measures, such as extending insurance coverage to children with preexisting conditions, while still keeping the Republican cause alive. The plan “is to highlight those things that caused the American people to hate this bill and to challenge the Democrats to change them and to give them a last opportunity to eliminate them from the legislation,” says Texas Sen. John Cornyn. “The words “repeal and replace” will be a common theme between now and November.”

But some Republicans and Democrats are already looking to turn the page. “People will go home for recess, they’ll come back and they’ll start thinking of other things,” says Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who is working on financial reregulation legislation that got postponed due to health care. In fact vacation, after such a grueling year that included votes on Christmas Eve and through many weekends, seems tantalizingly close. “I’m hoping it will be a short week,” Senator Benjamin Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, says laughing. “But it’s really up to the Republicans.”