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No clear path for GOP on health care repeal

WASHINGTON — Republicans say they’ll repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law, but tinker and tweak is as far as they’re likely to get.

And that might not be a bad thing if you’re a GOP strategist. It keeps the issue Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell calls the “tipping point” in the midterm elections alive for 2012, when they’ll try to unseat Obama himself.

Republicans will control the House in January, but they don’t have the votes to overcome a Senate filibuster, much less Obama’s veto on repeal. Plan B, denying funds to carry out the law, could backfire if it escalates to a government shutdown.

Other options call for legislative guerrilla tactics.

Republicans could use the oversight authority of Congress to slow down or block regulations, essentially tying up the instruction manual for the overhaul. Expect flyspeck scrutiny of agencies implementing the law.

GOP lawmakers may be able to pick off unpopular provisions. Obama has already said he’s willing to “tweak” an IRS reporting requirement that small businesses find burdensome. Another target is a yet-to-be-named board with the power to make Medicare cuts. And look for a move to tighten restrictions on abortion coverage.

Aides said Wednesday no decision has been made on the first bill that Republicans will take up in the new Congress, and party leaders put taxes and government spending ahead of health care repeal as priorities. The GOP’s repeal strategy is fluid.

“This is not a ‘Jeopardy!’ question where there is just one right answer,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, a leader on health care. “House Republicans are committed to repealing the existing Obamacare bill. That’s not window dressing, but we are going to do a three-pronged approach. We’ll do repeal, we’ll do a reform bill, we’ll do a defunding bill. It’s all of the above.”

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