Republicans in the House of Representative plan to vote this week on whether to repeal the health care reform law. While the House is certain to pass the measure -- it has already done so once before -- the largely symbolic bill has little chance of clearing the Democratic-run Senate.
The exercise is aimed at raising funds and mobilizing a political base that may not like the incumbent president, but also has little to like in the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
The GOP sees an opportunity in capitalizing on the public discontent with the version of health care passed in 2009 and hopes to quash the successful Democratic characterization of Romney's history as a corporate raider.
Procedurally there is an opportunity for Congress to target the keystone individual mandate, thanks to the legal interpretation used by Chief Justice John Roberts.
The chief justice ruled that the controversial individual mandate -- the core part of the law forcing Americans to pay a fine if they don't have health insurance -- is actually a tax. A complex congressional rule known as reconciliation would allow Republicans to change certain tax and spending components of the health care law with only a standard Senate majority.
There are ample reasons to believe that the health care legislation needs modification -- there are concerns that small businesses that now offer health care may opt out, forcing 20 million Americans, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, to obtain government-sponsored coverage. The health reform law also failed to resolve the way hospitals, HMOs and the pharmaceutical industries insulated themselves from the competitive market forces that would normally check the escalation of costs to consumers.
Some degree of repeal seems likely and welcome, but lawmakers ought to explain why they feel it is wise to repeal the health care reform before clearly defining a suitable alternative.
U.S. Rep. Tom Marino said that Congress will "initiate a fact-based national conversation about finding a better approach that will lower health care costs, increase access to quality care, and empower patients and doctors to make decisions about care; not insurance companies or bureaucrats."
That conversation needs to take place. Let's have it right now -- before repeal, so that Americans and their elected representatives know what the alternative is.
After all, who wants to wind up repealing the replacement for the reform. Let's get it right next time.