The Senate's Republican leader has a simple postelection message for President Barack Obama: Move toward the GOP or get no help from its lawmakers.
Two days after Republicans scored big victories in congressional elections, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday offered an aggressive assessment of the results, calling for votes to erode the reach of the health care law that was a signature of the Obama administration.
"That means that we can — and should — propose and vote on straight repeal, repeatedly," McConnell said.
McConnell's remarks, in a speech delivered to the conservative Heritage Foundation, acknowledged that Obama would veto such legislation, which probably would be blocked by the president's fellow Democrats in the Senate anyway.
He said the only way Republicans in Congress can achieve their goals is "to put someone in the White House who won't veto" a repeal of Obama's health care reform, spending cuts and shrinking the government.
More realistically, McConnell said Republicans, who will hold a majority in next year's House of Representatives, should aim to hobble the healthcare law by "denying funds for implementation" of the measure. Annual spending bills for agencies, including ones that implement the healthcare law, are normally written first in the House.
McConnell said the results of the midterms were not about Republicans but instead about Democrats, who he said got an "F." He said he expects Democrats will begin peeling off of their base to start supporting GOP initiatives.
"Every one of the 23 Democrats up [for re-election] in the next cycle have a clear understanding of what happened Tuesday," McConnell said. "I think we have major opportunities for bipartisan coalitions to support what we want to do."
McConnell's confrontational tone was in sharp contrast to the chastened posture Obama took Wednesday in the face of a new Republican controlled House and Republican gains in the Senate.
On Wednesday, likely incoming House Speaker John Boehner said the he promised to be honest with Obama and the two agreed to work together on cutting spending and creating jobs, even though Republicans campaigned on vows to turn back much of Obama's agenda.
Democrats accused Republicans of putting the interests of large corporations ahead of families.
"It speaks volumes that the first thing on Republicans' 'to do' list is to give power back to big health insurance companies," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Kim Monk, a healthcare analyst for Capital Alpha Partners in Washington, suggested Republican efforts to repeal parts of the new law could run up against the harsh reality of huge U.S. budget deficits.
"Even tweaks are going to cost money and that's a problem because it's a deficit-cutting environment," she said in a telephone interview.
Instead, Republicans most likely would continue speaking out against the law "just to keep the message alive. This is all about 2012 (election) strategy," she said.
The healthcare law, passed this year over Republican objections, provided the most sweeping reforms of the U.S. healthcare industry in decades. It aims to provide coverage to millions of people who have been going without insurance.
It imposes tough new standards on health insurers such as Aetna Inc and WellPoint Inc and requires all Americans to buy health insurance policies starting in 2014 or face fines, among other changes.
The Senate Republican leader said that he would attempt to stage votes in his chamber next year "against its most egregious provisions" of the law.
Those could include measures that penalize large employers if they do not offer health insurance to their workers and mandates on individuals to purchase health insurance.
McConnell's own approval rating, per a September NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, is 12 percent positive, 20 percent neutral and 18 percent negative, with another 50 percent responding that they did not have an opinion.