Lately, it seems as if House Republicans are performing a real-life version of Waiting for Godot — taking the quote, "Nothing to be done" to its absurd conclusion. In doing so, they're wasting valuable time that could be used for actual, substantive legislating, and are just as likely to succeed as Vladimir and Estragon.
Showing an envious persistence matched only by futility, House Republicans voted Thursday to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," again (for a 37th time).
The bill, H.R. 45: "To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010," was sponsored by Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and co-sponsored by 128 others. It passed 229-195, with every voting Republican and two Democrats in favor.
Obamacare supporters have nothing to worry about. That's it for the bill; the Democrat-controlled Senate won't pass it, and even if it did, President Obama's veto pen would be waiting. Everyone – House Republicans included – understands this.
Why waste the time, then? It's the optics, stupid. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) acknowledged this prior to the vote: "we've got 70 new members who have not had an opportunity to vote on the president's health care law," Boehner said. "Frankly they've been asking for an opportunity to vote on it."
And frankly, it's extremely clear why they want to vote on it – a vote against Obamacare is red meat for their constituents. The bill, originally signed by President Obama in March 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court in June of this past year, is unpopular (at least for the 58% of Americans who know that it is the law), misunderstood, and emblematic (to some) of the government's increasing encroachment into citizens' lives. Voting against the bill allows freshman representatives to say they voted against the bill, which may elicit support from constituents during next year's midterm elections.
It's shrewd, more than a little cynical, and could serve as a clarion call for conservatives to rally around in November 2014.
But it's supplanting the actual work voters expect their representatives to accomplish, by crowding out hearings, votes, and other legislative matters. In hijacking time away from meaningful matters and using it for cynical, calculated politiciking, House Republicans are ensuring that the legislative calendar sits substantively fallow and that our sclerotic system is left untreated.
How bad is it? Since the 113th Congress began in January, only nine public laws have been passed – seven originating from the House, two from the Senate. That's only about two public laws a month. The output of the 113th thus far compares unfavorably with the past few Congresses: 146 roll-call votes for the 113th, about twice that many for the 100th, 111th, and 112th – none of which were known for their prodigious output of legislation, either.
To be fair to the House, the Senate is also complicit in not getting things done; of the 111 bills and resolutions passed/agreed to in the House, 41 are currently classified as "received in the Senate" – waiting for the Senate's action, in other words. Which is not to say that the Senate's faults – legion though they may be – absolve the House's inaction; merely that all of Congress shares blame.
There's no word yet on when the 38th Obamacare repeal vote is scheduled for.