By Tom Howell Jr.
President Obama's health care law passed Congress three years ago and remains almost entirely intact, but Republicans say they are still gathering support to dismantle it, betting that the overhaul will lose its political heft as Americans feel the brunt of its taxes and regulations.
So far, there are few signs they'll be successful.
The Senate last week voted down the latest Republican repeal effort and the White House, while saying it's open to tweaks, has yet to suggest any specific changes it wants to see.
That has left congressional Republicans to try to poke smaller holes where they think they can gain the most Democratic support.
"We're seeing more Democrats co-sponsoring things that we couldn't find a Democrat co-sponsor for before the election," Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said. "I think many are saying, 'Well, the president was re-elected. Now I can be honest about the health care law, and it's not good.'"
A quartet of Senate Democrats -- Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, and Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota -- are among the 29 co-sponsors on Sen. Orrin G. Hatch's bill to repeal the 2.3 percent tax on medical device sales, a shift Republican members linked to an outcry among manufacturers in the Democrats' home states.
Mr. Donnelly's spokeswoman, Elizabeth Shappell, said the senator wants to "encourage, not stifle, continued growth in our manufacturing sector" and "he supports repealing the medical device excise tax because it makes sense for Hoosier businesses, workers, and the patients served by their products."
But overall, Democrats still defend the broad outlines of the health care law and House Democratic leaders said Wednesday it is here to stay.
More than 100 million Americans are eligible for free preventive care services, 6.1 million seniors have saved nearly $6 billion on prescription drugs and 3.1 million young adults can remain on their parents' health plans, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said during a celebration of the law Wednesday.
More celebrations are planned for Thursday -- the third anniversary of the bill's passage. It was signed into law two days later.
"I've always said that the Affordable Care Act was something that was transformative," said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat. "It helped us honor our promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to the American people."
A Maryland woman at the event said her 3-year-old daughter will not be denied coverage for her ongoing leukemia treatments, when their family insurance plan changes over at the end of the year, because Mr. Obama's law does not allow insurers to reject people for pre-existing conditions.
"We're going to see to it that nobody messes with this" law, said Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat.
Yet piecemeal legislation from Mr. Barrasso and Republicans Mr. Hatch of Utah and Mike Johanns of Nebraska attempts to strip away parts of the law, such as the mandate that requires individuals to purchase insurance.
At their press event, Mr. Barrasso and his colleagues rolled out a hand truck with a 7-foot-tall ream of taxes and rules tied to "Obamacare" -- and literally tied by red ribbon -- in a bit of showmanship they dubbed the "red tape tower."
"And that's just the ones so far," Mr. Hatch said of the regulations.
Mr. Johanns said some Democrats are still "skittish as all get-out" about voting for a partial-repeal bill they privately support, because of the potential damage to the entire law or blowback from the White House.
However, the Republican trio said public outrage and confusion over the law's requirements will provide Congress an opportunity to gradually take apart the law, even if their party would prefer a full repeal.