So, health care repeal was always dead. There was never a chance that Republicans would have the numbers over the next two years, and probably beyond that given the current super-majority function in the Senate, to repeal the bill. But Rep. Dave Camp said it out loud today.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged Thursday that Republican plans to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law were “dead.” Instead, Camp predicted, the GOP would turn its focus to overturning the most controversial portion of that legislation: the mandate requiring individuals to buy insurance.

“Obviously, I voted to repeal the bill and you pretty much know where I am on replacement because I put out a bill last year on that,” Camp said. “Is the repeal dead? I don’t think the Senate is going to do it, so I guess, yes.”

Camp added, “In terms of the House, I put out a bill [to replace the law]. We know where I stand.”

“I think we have to see where this [health care] lawsuit that is working its way through the courts goes,” he said. “I’m monitoring that pretty closely. The individual mandate, I think, we need to get an answer from the courts on that. … I do think we may have a vote to repeal that provision some time in this Congress … the individual mandate.”

If the courts rule the mandate unconstitutional and choose to sever it from the bill, then Congress wouldn’t need to act at all. But Camp is saying that the House may vote for repeal on the mandate themselves. The mandate is pretty unpopular, at least relative to the entire law, so Republicans would have a rare opportunity to start a debate with public opinion behind them, unlike with repealing Medicare and replacing it with a health insurance coupon. Incidentally, Camp revealed that he would not mark up that Medicare privatization plank in his committee. It’s probably the case that the high-profile focus on ending Medicare hampered any effort to repeal, in whole or in part, the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats running elections next year aren’t likely to forget that Republicans tried to repeal popular provisions in the health care law and privative Medicare. A spokesman for Protect Your Care, a new health care-related group, emailed a response: “If you’re a small business they voted to take away your tax credit. If you’re a senior they voted to take away your help closing prescription drug donut hole. If you have a child they voted to take away their protection from pre-existing conditions and to stay on your insurance until 26.”

Similarly, there will be plenty of Republican lawmakers who will not appreciate these comments from a senior member and Committee chair. The Republican leadership has turned from ideological positioning to governing, and they’ve done it pretty quickly. There’s enough bipartisan agreement on some of these issues to make progress, but that’s not going to satisfy a lot of the tea partiers.

David Dayen

David Dayen