Michael Hiltzik published what is the best headline I’ve read in a long time, New “Productive” Congress Takes a Vote… to Repeal Obamacare. Thus far, only the House has voted. This is their 56th repeal vote. It’s shocking. It is impossible not to ask why the Republicans think they are in Congress. I’m not someone who thinks that Congress should get something — anything — done. But the people in Congress should be working on the same stuff that they would be working on if they did have control of Congress and White House. These endless repeal votes are nothing but messages sent to their base. And I understand that some of this is to be expected. But 56 votes?!
To make matters worse, John Boehner provided the lamest excuse I have ever heard, “We have 47 new members of Congress on the Republican side who have never had a chance to cast their vote to repeal Obamacare.” What are they? Grammar school children? They have to go on yet another field trip to the zoo because some of the children have never had a chance to see a caged rhino? This is madness. What’s more, it’s silly. The idea seems to be that these Republicans need to prove that they are serious about repealing Obamacare to their bases. But everyone knows such a vote is meaningless as long as Obama is in the White House. Would all these Republicans really vote to repeal Obamacare if it actually would take healthcare away from their constituencies? I’m not sure. So the 56th repeal Obamacare vote is even pointless as a symbol.
Some — like Greg Sargent and Jamelle Bouie — are saying that this does not bode well for Obamacare if the Supreme Court decides to muck things up with King v Burwell. This is the case that uses one small contradictory passage in the new healthcare law to argue that people in the 36 states that don’t run their own exchanges. The argument then goes: if the Republicans are even now voting to repeal Obamacare, they certainly won’t be willing to make the trivial fix to it to overcome the Supreme Court challenge.
I don’t think it is as simple as this. For one thing, the Republicans may hate the poor, but they love big corporations. Hobbling Obamacare at this point would be very bad for business. Now I’m sure that there will be a lot of Republicans who will continue on with their foolish and dangerous behavior. But I don’t think the Republican Party as a whole will. It’s just like shutting down the government or breaching the Debt Ceiling. These are great issues to grandstand on. But they are not nearly as popular when the grandstanding actually means something.
Hiltzik noted an interesting situation that the Republicans find themselves in. If they do nothing to fix the problem that is before the court, the justices may decide that finding against the law is too harming and decide to uphold it. But approving this simple one-sentence fix would be seen by many as a vote in favor of Obamacare. Of course, we know what the Republicans are going to do: nothing. And if the Supreme Court finds against the law, we will see more support for doing something than we now do.
The bottom line is that the Republicans get lots that is positive and nothing that is negative for voting to repeal Obamacare at this time. We aren’t going to see what they really think until their votes actually mean something. So I don’t see the 56th repeal vote as any more significant than the 55th. Hiltzik is right that politically, it looks bad. But I don’t think the American people ever believed Boehner and McConnell when they claimed that they were going to start governing.