Republicans finally pass an Obamacare repeal. Do GOP voters care?

Republicans have never passed an Obamacare repeal through both houses of Congress, forcing Obama to veto. That changed Wednesday.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Rep. Tom Price (R) of Georgia, chairman of the House Budget Committee and a physician, appears before the Rules Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday as he sponsors legislation that would repeal President Obama's signature health care law. The legislation will be the first order of business as the House returns for the holiday break and will mark the first time a bill repealing the health law makes it all the way to the White House.

On Wednesday, House Republicans passed a bill that guts Obamacare – their 62nd attempt to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act. The crucial difference is that this time it will get all the way to the president’s desk, instead of being blocked by Senate Democrats.

But this bill will never become law. At least, not under this president. He will veto it, along with its companion provision to stop federal funding of Planned Parenthood for a year. Congress will not have the votes to override, and so the bill – like the other 61 attempts – has symbolic value only.

So why bother?

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin says that getting the bill to the president will finally hold him “accountable” for his “disastrous” policies.

But Americans already know where the president stands on these issues. Observers say the real point is to remind voters what could happen if a Republican is sitting in the Oval Office and the GOP keeps control of Congress. Lawmakers also want to show critics that they’re living up to a campaign promise, or at least trying harder.

This bill “will sharpen contrasts between Republicans and Democrats going into a presidential election year,” says GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak.

But will the voters care? Republican voters contacted by the Monitor suggest Wednesday’s vote is neither pointless nor a clear victory. While many like the signal it sends, others see it as yet another hollow gesture.

They want action, and this is seen as only a start.

Travis Sawyer, a financial advisor in Abilene, Kan., says he falls into the camp of folks who view “maneuvers” like this as generally a waste of time.  However, he does like this move, even though he already knows how the president will react.

“Having him actually have to go through the process of vetoing legislation passed by both houses of Congress, it’s big. I think it’s a big step.” He’s happy to see lawmakers “follow through” on their promise.

Joshua Thompson, a warehouse worker in Nashua, N.H., is “impressed” that the bill will get as far as the president. On the other hand, he says, if Republicans ever succeed in repealing the health care law, “they should at least have something to replace it. Something better than Obamacare.”

Meanwhile, Carol Hill, a retired physician from Diamondhead, Miss., says in an e-mail that the “ridiculous ‘show’ bill” repealing Obamacare and defunding Planned Parenthood only “feeds the anger” of voters.

If establishment Republicans – she calls them the “eGOP” – wanted to stop either Obamacare or Planned Parenthood, they could have done it in the past by defunding them, she maintains.

“The eGOP is totally incapable of understanding how angry conservatives really are.”

Obamacare has receded a bit as an issue, eclipsed by other concerns such as national security. Still, a majority of Americans disapprove of it and shining the spotlight during a rare presidential veto is beneficial to Republicans, says Mr. Mackowiak, the strategist. He believes that repealing Obamacare is “going to be a big fight” in the general election.

Anticipating the House vote on Wednesday – which follows Senate approval last month – conservative group Heritage Action sent a letter to GOP presidential candidates on Tuesday urging them to push Obamacare to the forefront in 2016.

The letter highlighted the Republicans’ repeal promise – which they have been loudly criticized for breaking. It then supported an “ironclad commitment” to repeal the entire law in 2016 through a rare parliamentary process known as “budget reconciliation.”

The process allows a bill to avoid a Senate filibuster and pass by simple majority. It’s this procedure that Democrats used to pass the health care law in the first place – and it’s this route that Republicans, after gaining control of the Senate last year, used to finally get this bill to the president’s desk.

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton fiercely defended the law on Monday, reminding Iowans at a rally that it has extended coverage to 19 million Americans, doesn’t discriminate against preexisting conditions, and sets equal premiums for men and women.

“They have no plan,” she said. Republicans “just want to undo” what Democrats have fought for. “[I]f there's a Republican sitting there, it will be repealed and then we will have to start all over again,” she warned.

No question, the move to force the president into a veto “raises the stakes in the rhetorical war,” says Amy Black, a political scientist at Wheaton College in Illinois. It will give more attention to the issue and “remind voters yet again that Obama and Democrats are not on their side.”

But will the veto strategy mean much to voters? She’s not so sure. “It’s a question whether the strategy will work with voters or not.”

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