Will Gabrielle Giffords Shooting in Arizona Change Health Care Reform Rhetoric?

House Republicans push repeal vote despite concerns about rhetoric.

ByHuma Khan
January 13, 2011, 10:57 AM

Jan. 13, 2010— -- The shooting in Arizona last weekend has heightened calls for civility in political discourse, but many are questioning whether the polarized political climate will resurface as Republicans prepare to bring the controversial health care repeal bill to the floor.

Health care has become one of the most politically charged topics of recent years, next only to immigration.

From fiery town hall debates -- many of which turned violent -- in late 2009, to the unusual "You Lie" yell from Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., during President Obama's 2010 State of the Union address, health care has divided the nation along firm partisan lines.

Republicans made health care repeal the cornerstone of the new Congress, vowing to hold a symbolic vote even though it has no chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Senate, much less being signed by Obama.

In the wake of the Tucson tragedy, the House GOP leadership postponed the vote that was scheduled to be held on Wednesday, but they will resume discussions on the issue next week.

Republicans say there's no reason to further postpone the debate on an issue they feel propelled them to a majority in the House. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, one of the chief proponents of repealing the law who himself has been criticized by the left for his comments, said if anyone, it will be Democrats who will likely turn up the rhetoric.

"There's no reason for Republicans to turn it up. We're in the majority now," King told ABC News. "For Democrats, defenders of 'Obamacare,' to argue that there will be heated rhetoric and we can't do that because they presume heated rhetoric had something to do with the deranged individual that brought about the tragedy in Tucson, first it's illogical. It's illogical to draw those connections and I for one won't be caught up in that."

The GOP leadership, for their part, emphasized that their focus will be on policy, rather than politics.

"As the White House noted, it is important for Congress to get back to work, and to that end we will resume thoughtful consideration of the health care bill next week," Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement. "Americans have legitimate concerns about the cost of the new health care law and its effect on the ability to grow jobs in our country. It is our expectation that the debate will continue to focus on those substantive policy differences surrounding the new law."

The topic was front and center at the annual GOP congressional retreat that is being held today through Sunday.

With memories of the Tucson tragedy still fresh, some fear reviving this politically charged topic could be detrimental to the political climate and to Republicans themselves.

Democrats are reportedly urging their GOP counterparts to change the name of the bill, titled "Repealing the Job Killing Health Health Care Law Act." Writing for the Huffington Post, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Me., said taking out the word "killing" from the title would be "a good place to start a more civil dialoge." But there's little indication from Republicans that will come to fruition.

Experts say the oratory on both sides is likely to stay as fiery as before.

The Tucson shooting "has the effect of postponing the vote for a few days but I can't see that changing the rhetoric at all," said Daniel S. Blumenthal, associate dean for community health at the Morehouse School of Medicine.

King, however, argues that connecting the political discourse to the tragedy in Tucson, and delaying the vote, is a mere tactic to delay the repeal that is likely to pass in the House.

"We want to have debate, we want to have discourse and there isn't going to be any Republican, I don't think, that uses sharp language," he said. "The sharp language will come from the other side. The people that are talking about this, to me, seem to be using this as a tactic to try to crawl the debate and maybe delay the vote."

"It fits right in with the political opportunism that goes along with those who want to ban guns, those who want to ban free speech, those who want to blame it on the Tea Party," he added. "It's the people who are opposed to the agenda of repealing Obamacare that are looking for some ways to make an argument and that's all there is."

Health Care Repeal to Move Forward Amid Fears of Political Polarization

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that repealing the health care law would cost $145 billion through the end of the decade and $230 billion by 2021, and that it would add roughly $145 billion to the federal budget deficit.

But Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, dismissed the estimates, and has instead blamed Democrats for "rigging" the CBO numbers.

The public remains divided over the health care reform law, especially when it comes to what it means to them.

In the most recent poll conducted by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, 42 percent of Americans held a favorable view of health reform, 41 percent an unfavorable view and 18 percent offered no opinion.

The public is also divided over repeal: 26 percent, said they support repealing the law in its entirety; 25 percent want to repeal parts of the law and keep other parts; 21 percent want to leave the law as it is and 20 percent want to expand the law beyond its current footprint.

Democrats admit that they have yet to sell Americans on the health care law, and supporters of it say the repeal presents a fresh opportunity to raise that awareness. But Democrats also have to deal with the divisiveness in their own caucus and the loss of the House in November, wounds that are still fresh for many.

"Overall, this is a job killer, it increases the deficit," Rep. Dan Boren, D-Ok., one of the handful of Democrats who broke from their party and voted against the health care law, said on Fox News Friday.

"You know, one of the reasons why those 13 Democrats are coming back is because they listened to their constituents," he added. "I think they realize, you know, after the shellacking, as they say, within our caucus, I think a lot of people realize that hey, maybe you should listen to your constituents and vote your conscience."

The Obama administration is also being challenged on another front in the health care battle. On Wednesday, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt sent a letter to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi requesting that his state be allowed to join the multi-state lawsuit that challenges the law's constitutionality.

The law, which most predict will go to Supreme Court, focuses chiefly on the clause that requires all Americans to carry health insurance by 2014. It is one of the central features of the law and one that insurance companies say is needed, given the tough requirements they now face.

ABC News' John Parkinson contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events