House Republicans Just Trying to Cover Their Political Butts With Obamacare Repeal

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives is scheduled to hold its 31st vote, in House Republicans’ ongoing effort to repeal President Obama’s signature health care reform law.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), Obama’s landmark health reform bill passed in 2009, was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote in late June. The majority, which called the controversial individual mandate a tax, upheld the most contentious elements of the law, disappointing the conservative coalition hoping for the Court to strike down the ACA in its entirety.

However, rather than putting the issue to rest, the Court’s decision has given rise to an entirely new round of debate and partisan grandstanding, with Republicans attempting to rally their base using the rhetoric of repeal, while Democrats call on their donors to support the President who finally pushed through health care reform.

Although today’s vote will be entirely symbolic – the bill will die in the Senate just as the 30 that came before it have – it will allow Republicans to re-frame the debate surrounding healthcare reform as a debate surrounding tax increases and their portrait of Obama as a President acting against the will of the American people.

To let sleeping dogs lie is rarely an effective political strategy, especially when there still seems to be a great deal of political hay to be made yelling about Obamacare, and the Republicans appear to be firing on all cylinders in their effort to keep the focus off Romney and on Obama’s signature legislation.

President Obama’s attempt to deflect attention from the GOP vote and poor job numbers by announcing a new line in the sand over Bush Tax Cuts earlier this week has only given the Republicans more ammunition to combine with the “Obamacare tax” message being repeated by conservatives since the Court’s ruling. Although the initial assault by Republicans calling the tax “the single largest tax increase in history” was quickly debunked as nonsense (even St. Reagan raised taxes more in real dollar terms), Obama’s refreshed stance on the Bush Tax Cuts is sure to renew efforts by conservatives to paint him as a President dead-set on raising taxes.

“[T]his week the House will vote to repeal Obamacare,” said Speaker John Boehner yesterday, explaining that it “is driving up the cost of health care and making it harder for small businesses to create jobs.” Boehner deftly pivoted the Obamacare vote into an attack on President Obama’s announced position on the extension of Bush Tax Cuts, claiming that “the President is out there calling for a tax increase on American job creators,” and pledging that the Republicans in the House would resist every step of the way.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed Boehner’s talking points. "We are hoping to have a chance to vote on repealing ObamaCare again," said McConnell on Tuesday. “We believe it's appropriate to have that vote again and we'll be working to get that kind of vote in the near future." Mirroring Boehner’s pivot, McConnell went on to tie together the issue of tax cuts and Obamacare. "Yesterday’s announcement [about the Bush Tax Cuts] was many things. But let’s be honest: it wasn’t a plan for deficit reduction. And it sure wasn’t a plan for job creation,” said McConnell, “his goal isn’t jobs; it’s income distribution. It’s his idea of fairness — which means you earn, he takes.”

The media blitz by the GOP in the run-up to today’s vote has been clear: Hang Obamacare around the President’s neck in any way possible. The big question is whether such an attack will pay off.

Public opinion has evened out on the ACA, going from 39-53 supporting the law in April to an even 47-47 split this week. Further, while the GOP may hoot and holler about death panels and socialism to their heart’s content, the ACA is not going anywhere in the foreseeable future unless the Republicans manage to take 60 seats in the Senate (spoiler: they’ll be lucky to take a majority). As the law continues to be rolled out and implemented, it will become more popular as individuals gain the benefits extended to them said implementation. While there will always be a vocal base that opposes health care reform on an ideological level, it is unlikely to be sufficient in size to secure the votes necessary to make a repeal happen.

At the end of the day, today’s vote will simply be the 31stact in the Obamacare play that is the core of the House GOP’s ongoing political theatre. The vote is little more than a delivery of red meat to the base in the form of a middle finger to the White House. Its practical implications extend exclusively to election year politics and little else. The goal seems to be to attack the President rather than focus on the quality of their own candidate which, to be fair, is probably their best strategy. That said, the American public doesn’t seem to be buying the hyperbolic tax rhetoric the GOP has been espousing and its unlikely that today’s vote will change it.