Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was asked yesterday about House Republicans, once again, voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even though House Republicans realize this is pointless. Noting the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, Reid said they have “truly lost their minds.”
That’s not an unfair assessment.
As we get ready for the latest vote, I’ve been troubled by the confusion over exactly how many repeal votes we’ve seen, since it should be easy enough to count them and get a reliable number. And yet, I’ve seen wildly divergent figures. David Fahrenthold and Ed O’Keefe, to their credit, published a detailed list yesterday, pointing to 36 such votes, making today’s repeal effort the 37th. (If that sounds a little low to you, note that this only includes votes in the House, not the Senate. If we include both chambers, the total is in the mid-50s.)
For convenience sake, let’s accept this number as a consensus figure. Let’s also accept as true that House Republicans are being wildly irresponsible with this nonsense, even by congressional standards.
Three dozen is a lot for a bill that currently has no prayer of becoming law. But the figure 37 actually understates the amount of time Republicans have devoted to litigating and trying to dismantle the president’s biggest legislative accomplishment.
The repeal vote, which is likely to occur Thursday, will be at least the 43rd day since Republicans took over the House that they have devoted time to voting on the issue.
To put that in perspective, they have held votes on only 281 days since taking power in January 2011. (The House and Senate have pretty light legislative loads these days, typically voting only three or four days a week.) That means that since 2011, Republicans have spent no less than 15 percent of their time on the House floor on repeal in some way.
They know their bill can’t pass. They know if it did, millions of Americans would suffer. They know they haven’t bothered to come up with an alternative policy. And yet, they waste their time and ours with nonsense, largely because it makes them feel better about themselves.
There’s real work to be done at the federal level, and this is how House Republicans chose to spend their time. It’s an embarrassment.
They were able to hold off a vote for some time. At this point in 2011, House Republicans had already voted nine times on some form of repeal. But conservatives pressed on, noting that their newly elected colleagues had not had a chance to vote on something that is a Republican rite of passage.
“The guys who’ve been up here the last year, we can go home and say, ‘Listen, we voted 36 different times to repeal or replace Obamacare,’ ” said Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina at a gathering of conservatives recently. “Tell me what the new guys are supposed to say?”
Well, I’m just spit-balling here, but maybe they could say they were doing real work? They could say they were legislating for a change? They could say they took the responsibilities of governing seriously enough not to see themselves as entitled to vote for a pointless bill that would deny millions of Americans access to affordable health care?
To reiterate a point from a couple of months ago, Republicans routinely complain that President Obama is not being “serious” enough about getting things done – he’s too focused on electoral considerations; he’s not “leading” in a way the far-right finds satisfactory; he’s reaching out to his rivals on the other side of the aisle but he doesn’t really mean it, etc.
But it’s against this backdrop that Republicans vote, over and over again, to repeal a health care law they know won’t be repealed. They do so, in part because they have a radicalized base that expects near-constant pandering, in part because some of their leaders have broader ambitions and see these tactics as useful, and in part because pointless vanity exercises make Republicans feel warm inside.
We can debate the relative merits of these motivations, but can we also keep this in mind the next time we hear whining about the White House not being “serious” enough about constructive policymaking?