Minn's John Kline will lead GOP efforts to undo health care reform

Rep. John Kline
Rep. John Kline speaks at an election night party at the Sheraton in Bloomington, Minn. on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010.
MPR Photo/Caroline Yang

The Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives means Minnesota U.S. Rep. John Kline will hold a key position in efforts to dismantle the federal health reform law.

Kline, a Republican who represents the 2nd Congressional District, is in line to become chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. That committee drafted about one-third of the health care reform law, in areas that largely govern health care reform as it applies to employers.

Kline said he believes the health care reform law is deeply flawed and would prefer to repeal it completely.

"There is agreement in the Republican conference that this law is bad policy, and we need to fix it," said Kline. "The tactics, and the strategy, and the mechanism and the venues are things that will continue to be worked out."

Kline acknowledged that repealing the law in its entirety isn't too likely, since Democrats still control the Senate and President Barack Obama still wields a veto pen. But the Obama administration can't spend money without Congress' approval, and one alternative to repealing the law outright is to withhold funding for it.

"There's been a lot of discussion about prohibiting the administration from spending money appropriated for health and human services, for example, to implement portions of the law," said Kline. "Those ideas will be there, and I would assume we would continue to pursue those."

Kline said Republicans will likely push for medical malpractice tort reform, as a way to reduce the incentive for doctors to use unnecessary medical tests to protect against lawsuits.

"It doesn't matter how many people campaigned against federal health care reform ... something must be done."

He said the House will also consider changing the law back to allowing employees to use their health savings accounts and flex accounts to buy over-the-counter medicines; and repealing a requirement that businesses file a form with the IRS whenever they do more than $600 worth of business with an outside vendor.

Some observers say it will prove easier for the GOP to campaign against health care law, than to fix the problems the law was designed to address.

The health care system remains broken, according to Julie Barnes, director of the health policy program at the Bipartisan Policy Center. The nonprofit center was created in 2007 by former congressional leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole, and George Mitchell to come up with solutions to public problems, including health care.

Barnes said the existing system is unsustainable, and that hasn't changed regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's election.

"There wasn't anyone that this system was working for previously, and it's still true today," said Barnes. "It doesn't matter how many people campaigned against federal health care reform -- it is true that something must be done. So then what?"

Many say the Democrats hurt themselves in the election by putting more focus on health care reform and less on the economy. Neera Tanden, a former health care policy advisor to Hillary Clinton and now is the Chief Operating Officer for the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, said Republicans walk a fine line in public opinion if they argue too much over health reform.

"It will probably feel to a lot of people that they're not focused on the economy either," Tanden said. "So if we're in a space where we're debating this health care bill ad nauseum again, that will [be] to no one's benefit."

Meanwhile, President Obama has said repeal of the health care legislation was a nonstarter. He said if Republicans have some ideas for cutting the cost of health care or making other changes in the bill, he said he would be glad to take a look.

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