Republicans want the American people to know that Thursday’s House vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act was most definitely not an act of empty political theater.
Yes, H.R. 45 has zero chance of surviving the Senate, much less the president’s veto pen. Yes, the House had already voted 36 times to repeal the law in part or in its entirety. And, yes, there may be one or two other matters on which lawmakers could be more productively expending time and energy. (Immigration reform? The budget?)
But just because Vote No. 37—this one spearheaded by former presidential candidate and noted stateswoman Michelle Bachmann—was futile does not mean it was pointless. No, siree. As the GOP leadership’s office was at pains to lecture reporters this week, Obamacare remains broadly unpopular, and therefore Republican lawmakers have an obligation to the public to keep fighting the good fight.
“This is a drumbeat,” party strategist John Feehery told me the morning of the vote. “When Obamacare starts really hitting people, the Democrats will rue the days that they voted not to repeal.”
House GOP Deputy Whip Tom Cole, agreed, asserting: “We should never miss the chance to remind voters that this measure passed without a single Republican vote; the president and congressional Democrats bear sole responsibility for its passage and implementation.”
Nor is Cole worried that his party will be seen as whipping a dead horse to score cheap political points. “I don’t anticipate any danger of overreach with another vote for repeal,” he noted. “Obamacare remains intensely unpopular, and that sentiment is likely to become more widespread as all aspects of the new law are implemented.”
This, like everything surrounding the health-care overhaul, is a hotly contested point. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that many of the ACA’s provisions are, in fact, broadly popular, but that the bulk of Americans have no idea what is actually in the law. (More than 40 percent of folks in the poll didn’t even realize that it is the law of the land.) Even so, there’s no question that plenty of Republicans won or retained their seats in recent election cycles thanks to their anti-Obamacare zeal. And with the 2014 midterms looming, the sense is that this passion must be reaffirmed—especially by House freshmen, who weren’t around to participate in the past three dozen votes.
So it was that, in the hours leading up to Thursday evening’s vote, a steady stream of Republicans took to the House floor to denounce the ACA. Dems, in turn, rose to defend it. Among Republicans, the phrase “unaffordable care act” was especially popular. Across the aisle, “obstructionist,” “waste of time,” and “37 times” kept popping up. Both sides laid claim to “outrage” and “disgrace.” Some lawmakers bellowed. Some droned. Some opted for a tone of exhausted dismay. Many came armed with data and illustrative anecdotes. The truly ambitious brought charts or other visuals. At one point in the non-spectacle, Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn rose to marvel: “It’s absolutely amazing that we are once again on the floor to repeal Obamacare.” (At last, something both sides could agree on!)
As usual, there were only a few dozen members present for any given speech. Not that it mattered: the C-SPAN cameras were rolling, and all remarks were being fed into the record, to be trumpeted back in lawmakers’ home districts in the coming months. And on and on and back and forth they went: one hour, two hours, three hours, four.
Voting was slated to start around 5. It wasn’t until just after 5:30 that H.R. 45’s godmother, Rep. Bachmann, swanned onto the floor to say her piece, incongruously glam in her black satin suit and camera-ready makeup. Nearly another half hour passed before the bells sounded bringing lawmakers to vote, first on an unsuccessful motion by Dems to recommit the bill (which would have effectively killed it) and then on the bill itself.
As members milled about and cast their cards, Democratic eminences Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer stood front and center, chatting intensely. A few feet away, Republican Paul Ryan bantered with passing colleagues.
The actual vote lasted maybe 10 minutes, and the final score—229 Yeas to 195 Nays—was about as surprising as an inappropriate comment by Joe Biden. Come 6:30, the long, enervating adventure was gaveled close, at last setting everyone free.
Until next time.