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House Republicans link IRS scandal to Obamacare

Republicans leveraged backlash against President Obama's health care plan into a sweeping victory at the polls during the 2010 midterms, and now they're using t
The Internal Revenue Service building, Washington DC.  (Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
The Internal Revenue Service building, Washington DC.

Republicans leveraged backlash against President Obama's health care plan into a sweeping victory at the polls during the 2010 midterms, and now they're using the growing IRS scandal as a new way to attack Obamacare ahead of the 2014 elections.

This recess week, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) launched mobile billboards against some of their top Democratic targets, tying the controversy to the president’s healthcare law.

One of these billboards, which are driven around districts on trucks, reads: “Congressman Barrow’s Plan: Put the IRS in Charge of Your Healthcare. Fed Up?”

The NRCC’s “Red Zone” initiative targets Democrats who represent seven districts that voted Republicans in the past three presidential elections but continue to perplex them by voting in Democrats. Four of those Democrats are targeted in the roving billboards: Reps. Ron Barber and Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, John Barrow of Georgia, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota. Barrow voted against the law but has also voted against its repeal.

“Two of the most important things to people are their healthcare and their pocketbook. Clearly Americans are upset about what happened at the IRS, but the fact that the IRS is charged with executing a lot of Obamacare is of great concern,” said NRCC spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.

The billboard campaign has generated a lot of local and national media, said Scarpinato. He said it has created a “ripple effect” as people in rural communities see the messages driving around town and start conversations with their neighbors.

But the Democrats say this campaign is part of a misguided and harmful strategy.

“Republicans just lost a national election by trying to repeal health care reform and put insurance companies back in charge – and now they’re foolishly doubling down on a failed strategy,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Emily Bittner.

The Washington Post’s fact checker criticized the NRCC’s new campaign, saying its claims that the IRS will be “running healthcare” go too far, especially because the employer-provided system is largely left intact under the new law.

Under the new law, the Internal Revenue Service is responsible for collecting the taxes and penalties which contribute to funding the expansion of coverage.

Scarpinato said the IRS controversy demonstrates the “need for a balance of power in Washington” so that there is “someone asking the hard questions.”

His Democratic counterpart, however, is confident that the 2014 election will instead be focused on the gridlock in the Republican-controlled House, rather than a repeat of 2010.

“Republicans are taking their cue from Michele Bachmann’s discredited playbook with this attack, but the 2014 election will be a referendum on the dysfunction, obstruction and extremism of the Republican Congress,” said Bittner, referring to the controversial Minnesota Republican who announced her retirement this week.