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GOP spins its wheels on health care

It was just two months ago when it seemed the fight in Washington over health care was largely over. After all, what more was there to fight about? The election
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas

It was just two months ago when it seemed the fight in Washington over health care was largely over. After all, what more was there to fight about? The election was over; the Supreme Court fight was resolved; Republican governors were beginning to grudgingly implement the law; and even House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the Affordable Care Act "the law of the land." GOP candidates spent a year running on a repeal platform, and they lost.

And yet, despite all of this, Republicans just can't move on. Dana Milbank explained:

On Wednesday, Senate Republicans supported legislation proposed by the freshman [Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas] to defund Obamacare -- the 35th attempt, give or take, to abolish the program.This one failed, like all the others.Doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result, it has been said, defines insanity. But among Senate Republicans, the lunatics are running the asylum.

I should note that there's some debate among Hill watchers whether this was the 34th Republican attempt at repeal or 35th, but I think most folks can agree that's not really what's important here.

Rather, what matters is the fact that GOP lawmakers, two months in the new Congress, aren't even trying to be serious about policymaking or governing. They know they can't repeal "Obamacare," but they keep bringing these measures up for votes anyway. Indeed, how many Senate Republicans voted for yesterday's Cruz amendment? Literally all of them.

Over the weekend, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) appeared on Fox News, explaining his support for repealing the parts of the Affordable Care Act that help people receive medical care. Host Chris Wallace asked, "Are you saying that as part of your budget you would repeal -- you assume the repeal of Obamacare?" When Ryan said yes, Wallace replied, "Well that's not going to happen."

But therein lies the point: they don't care.

There is a certain irony underscoring recent events. To listen to Republican rhetoric on Capitol Hill is to hear a series of complaints about President Obama: he's 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.

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 these votes just seem to help Republicans feel better about themselves.

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?