House Votes to Repeal Obamacare, Again

The fourth time will not be the charm, but that’s not the point.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) leaves after his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill July 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. Boehner spoke about immigration crisis, the highway trust fund and other issues.
National Journal
Sam Baker
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Sam Baker
Feb. 3, 2015, 12:07 p.m.

The House voted 239-186 on Tues­day to re­peal Obama­care — y’know, in case it wasn’t clear where the Re­pub­lic­ans stood on that is­sue.

It’s the fourth time in four years the GOP-led House has passed a stand-alone bill to fully re­peal Obama­care — or the sixth time, if you count budget res­ol­u­tions, which in­clude full re­peal but are non­bind­ing. In­clud­ing bills to de­fund or re­peal parts of the law, the House has held more than 50 anti-Obama­care votes since Re­pub­lic­ans took con­trol in 2011.

Pres­id­ent Obama has signed some of those smal­ler meas­ures, but Tues­day’s full-re­peal bill stands as strong a chance as its pre­de­cessors: none what­so­ever. Just as un­sur­pris­ing as the House bill’s pas­sage was the White House’s veto threat, which went on at great length about the law’s pro­gress. Obama coun­ter­pro­grammed Tues­day’s vote by meet­ing with 10 people who have been helped by the Af­ford­able Care Act.

As a polit­ic­al is­sue, no one is chan­ging their minds about Obama­care at this point. Re­pub­lic­ans hate it. Obama loves it. The pub­lic is di­vided but leans against it.

But the point of Tues­day’s vote wasn’t to le­gis­late: It was to give fresh­man Re­pub­lic­ans a chance to take an easy, polit­ic­ally be­ne­fi­cial vote, which ful­filled a cam­paign prom­ise for many of them. More ex­per­i­enced mem­bers don’t have any­thing to lose by re­it­er­at­ing their sup­port for re­peal, even if they already did so in 2011, and/or 2012, and/or 2013.

And for the party’s lead­er­ship, giv­ing the rank and file a fresh chance to de­clare their sup­port for full re­peal might also come in handy if Re­pub­lic­ans find them­selves try­ing to patch up the law this sum­mer.

Re­pub­lic­ans are forever work­ing on the “re­place” part of their “re­peal and re­place” agenda. But the Su­preme Court could force the party’s hand in June, when it’s ex­pec­ted to rule on wheth­er Obama­care’s in­sur­ance sub­sidies can be made avail­able in all 50 states. If the Court sides against the ad­min­is­tra­tion, it’d be a big blow to Obama­care — but one that would put Re­pub­lic­ans in a tight spot.

Policy ex­perts say mil­lions of people would lose their cov­er­age and premi­ums would be­gin to climb sig­ni­fic­antly even for people who don’t get cov­er­age through Obama­care. All this would hap­pen mostly in red states and 2016 swing states. So, al­though Re­pub­lic­ans could prob­ably pin the polit­ic­al blame on the law’s au­thors, they still might have to do something to stop the bleed­ing in their states and dis­tricts.

It’s un­clear what that “something” would be; law­makers, as al­ways, say they’re work­ing on it. One op­tion would be to re­store some of the law’s sub­sidies in ex­change for oth­er con­ces­sions. An­oth­er would be to tem­por­ar­ily re­store the sub­sidies in full, giv­ing Con­gress some time to fig­ure out a set of Obama­care changes that both Obama and House Re­pub­lic­ans could agree to.

Either one would be a tough sell for con­ser­vat­ives, who have cam­paigned on full re­peal and would be vot­ing not only to “fix” Obama­care, but also to re­store its biggest chunk of new spend­ing.

Lead­er­ship would have a hard time selling its caucus on that no mat­ter what — vot­ing to fix Obama­care’s spend­ing is a ready-made ad for a primary chal­lenger. But many mem­bers might feel more com­fort­able if they’ve had a chance to sup­port full re­peal be­fore sign­ing on to what would be a big and ex­pens­ive fix.

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