PI Original Adam Doster Tuesday July 13th, 2010, 11:44am

Kirk's "Flip-Flop-Flip" On Health Care Repeal

First, GOP U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk said he would "lead the effort" to repeal the Democrats' health care reform bill.  Then he backtracked, saying he only opposed certain provisions.  Now he is once again supporting full repeal.

Mark Kirk has gained a reputation for shifting right on controversial policy positions if it will benefit him politically. A one-time advocate for gay rights, the GOP U.S. Senate candidate now opposes gay marriage, supports the Defense of Marriage Act, and voted against repealing the military's discriminatory "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy. After voting in favor of a comprehensive climate bill, he now says he would vote against the proposal if elected to the Senate because he no longer needs to look out for the "narrow interests" of the 10th Congressional District. "Who knows what the man now really believes," remarked Crain's Greg Hinz last year.

On the question of congressional health care reform, Kirk's position is even more muddled. Here's a brief timeline of his comments:

Throughout 2009, Kirk strenuously bashed the Democratic reform bill, cribbing talking points from conservative pollster Frank Luntz and making dubious assertions about the effects of the proposed legislation. Two weeks before President Obama signed the bill, Kirk even promised a group of GOP supporters that he would "lead the effort" to repeal the package.

Once larger media outlets caught wind of his statement and legal experts and lawmakers across the country expressed skepticism that his repeal gambit was a logistical possibility, Kirk began to equivocate. During the week following the passage of the health care bill (which he voted against), the Republican dodged a series of questions on that topic from reporters. Finally, he modified his criticism to say that he would only oppose "the new taxes and Medicare cuts to pay for it," even though that stance was illogical and ignored completely how this bill works.

But a funny thing happened over the summer: With the GOP facing growing pressure from conservative activists to fight against President Obama's most important legislative achievement to date, Kirk now appears to be renewing his support for a full repeal. In an interview with Chicago Public Radio, Kirk said he intends to sign a discharge petition -- which is a procedural method to force a vote in the House -- in favor of legislation introduced by Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA) that would repeal the new health care law and replace it with the GOP "alternative proposal" that the House defeated in November.

To be clear, this is a different petition than the one authored by some of Congress' most conservative members -- and signed by Illinois GOP Reps. Judy Biggert, Peter Roskam, John Shimkus, and Don Manzullo -- which simply sought to repeal the health care bill without offering any replacement.  Nonetheless, the Herger proposal would still dismantle the infrastructure approved by Democrats this spring.

I guess we can call this a "flip-flop-flip" on Kirk's part.

Furthermore, the "alternative" plan he favors as a replacement to the new law is a terrible piece of public policy, one that Rep. Phil Hare called "woefully inadequate." Indeed, when the CBO scored it last fall, the budget experts determined that it would cover one twelfth as many people as the Democratic package while saving $36 billion less in government funding over the next decade. If that's the best plan the GOP has to offer, outright repeal might be a more attractive option.

Kirk was likely emboldened to sign the petition by recent Rasmussen polls indicating that slightly more than 50 percent of Illinoisans favor repeal.  But across the country, Rasmussen has observed that support for repeal is actually dropping.  At the moment, the trend is not Kirk's friend on this one.

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