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'Obamacare' should be a GOP rallying cry

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
updated 7:12 PM EST, Mon February 27, 2012
The health care law encapsulates many conservative objections to the president, says William Bennett.
The health care law encapsulates many conservative objections to the president, says William Bennett.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Bennett: 'Obamacare' encapsulates conservative objections to president
  • He says Republicans should look back to the elections of 2010 and the tea party's message
  • Bennett: Democrats' 2010 shellacking was largely a referendum on 'Obamacare'
  • He says 'Obamacare' should be rallying cry to reinvigorate opposition to the president

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- The Obama administration's breach of religious freedom and freedom of conscience through the Health and Human Services agency's contraception mandate has reignited the national conversation about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare."

Obamacare encapsulates many of the major conservative objections to President Barack Obama's presidency: the vast and costly expansion of government, increased taxes and regulations and the infringement of personal and religious liberties as is now being litigated in the federal and Supreme Courts.

The latest contraception mandate is only a precursor of what could come once Obamacare is fully implemented. The law itself grants the Health and Human Services Secretary -- an unelected bureaucrat -- far reaching powers. One breakdown of the law found more than 700 mentions to instruct that the secretary "shall" take action and more than 200 cases in which the secretary "may" issue regulations. We won't know the full extent of the secretary's power until Obamacare is enforced, but if the contraception mandate is any indication, the secretary could have the power to regulate what health care Americans receive, what doctors they see and what insurance coverage they are eligible for.

William Bennett
William Bennett

Therefore, the Republican message in 2012 shouldn't focus singularly on the economy. Politically, that would be unwise. Even just the rumblings and perception of an economic recovery could be enough to carry President Obama to re-election. Instead, Republicans should get back to the message of 2010, the year of the tea party and the retaking of the House of Representatives. For Republicans, the stakes are economic liberty and the integrity of the Constitution. Thus, the message of the tea party is more relevant now than ever.

There are many Americans who see past the Obama administration's rhetoric. They understand that a right created by the government, free access to birth control, does not trump the First Amendment and the freedom of religion or conscience. A new CNN poll, indeed, shows that half of all Americans disapprove of this new policy, while 44% approve. I believe the more this policy is explained, the more the former number will increase and the latter contract.

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The contraception mandate is reason alone that Obamacare should be repealed, but the list doesn't stop there. In 2013, Obamacare will unleash an avalanche of taxes on individuals, businesses and insurers. (The list is quite long.) Individuals and families who do not purchase the qualifying government health insurance will be forced to pay an income surtax, and employers who do not offer insurance will be penalized through additional taxes. Highest earners will be hit with new surtaxes on investments and an increase in the Medicare payroll tax. The medical business will bear the brunt of a new 2.3% excise tax on medical device manufacturers and importers.

Already, Obamacare has stifled job creation and economic recovery. In a recent Gallup survey, nearly half of all small business owners who aren't hiring cite health care costs and government regulations as the reasons why. Stryker, the maker of artificial hips and knees, already announced it would lay off 5% of its global workforce because of the medical device tax.

Furthermore, Obamacare will dramatically increase the cost of government health care and welfare programs while growing the national debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office's estimates and budget outlook for the next decade, by 2022, spending on federal health care programs across the board will more than double. In particular, federal outlays for Medicaid will double, and spending per beneficiary in Medicare Part D will also double.

The shellacking that Democrats took in the 2010 elections was largely a referendum on Obamacare. Today still, the president's landmark legislation remains a winning issue for conservatives. The latest Rasmussen poll shows that 53% of Americans at least somewhat favor repeal of the health care law and 38% oppose it.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court rules in the spring, Obamacare is indelibly symbolic of President Obama's record. Conservatives are economically, morally and philosophically opposed to Obamacare. Yet until now, there has been low turnout in some of the recent GOP presidential primaries and caucuses. To reverse that, Obamacare, representing all that it means, should be the rallying cry that will reinvigorate and enlarge the base of opposition to the president -- again.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett.

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