“The 64th time is finally the charm,” WIFR reports as Congress finally musters enough votes to send an ObamaCare repeal to the White House. Sixty-three times in the past, the House has tried to push repeal all the way through Congress, only to get met with Harry Reid running interference for Barack Obama. This time, Senate Republicans finally cooperated by using the same mechanism Reid exploited to pass the Affordable Care Act in the first place:
The GOP-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon passed legislation that would repeal Obamacare, and after more than 60 votes to roll back all or part of the law, the bill dismantle it will finally get to the President’s desk. …
The Senate passed the legislation last month, using a budget mechanism known as “reconciliation” to overcome a Democratic filibuster. House Speaker Paul Ryan has told members he will hold an “enrollment ceremony” Thursday to sign the bill before sending it off to the White House.
The measure would also bar any federal money for Planned Parenthood, something conservatives in Congress vowed to do after a series of videos released by an anti-abortion group last year triggered a controversy about the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood maintains the footage was edited and denied any improper activity.
And … that probably won’t last past the final echoes of Ryan’s “enrollment ceremony.” Obama will no doubt set speed records in vetoing the legislation and holding a public ceremony of his own to do so. Ryan and Mitch McConnell don’t have anywhere near enough votes to override a veto, which makes this strictly a symbolic action. Voters for the most part understand that, even if most of them still don’t grasp that Congress can’t defund a statute-based entitlement program through the budget process.
There’s nothing wrong with symbolic actions, of course, while longer-range action is being planned. Critics of this bill note that Republicans haven’t unified behind a replacement plan for ObamaCare even after nearly six years of opposition and 64 votes to repeal the ACA. Ryan promises that a GOP alternative will shortly emerge that will have the backing of both Republican caucuses on Capitol Hill. That will be good news, if long overdue.
The problem for Republicans is that they hit the expiration date months ago for symbolic action. Republicans took control of both the House and Senate almost precisely a year ago, and the expectation was that GOP leadership would press on ObamaCare immediately. This effort seems like a year late and a mountain of dollars short, as I argue in my column for The Fiscal Times:
This effort could have been made a year ago, and should have been made a year ago, when the GOP took control of Congress. Instead, Boehner and Mitch McConnell made an understandable but mistaken choice to focus on process rather than issues. Republican leadership wanted to prove it could become a governing party in advance of the 2016 elections, but voters wanted evidence of change instead. That miscalculation not only became the undoing of Boehner but of the Republican Party’s standing with its grassroots voters, who cared much less about process and more about winning on the issues.
In a strange way, Republicans share a failing with Barack Obama: overpromising and underdelivering. Obama spent the last three months promising dramatic action on gun control, only to offer an ambiguous (but still potentially troublesome) adjustment of the definition of a firearms dealer, thanks to the limitations of his executive authority. Republicans spent 2014 promising dramatic action on a number of priorities, especially Obamacare, on which they could never substantively deliver thanks to the limitation of their majorities in the legislative branch. On top of that, the GOP didn’t even bother to offer a symbolic victory until now.
This repeal would have garnered cheers in January or Feburary 2015, even with an Obama veto and no way to override it. A year later, it seems doubtful that it will do much to restore the GOP’s credibility. Bait-and-switch strategies will have that effect and send consumers looking for other options. With just weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primaries, there is little time and almost no opportunity to fix that problem in time to address the anti-establishment fervor in the Republican electorate. Paul Ryan will need to keep delivering in 2016, though, in order to give the GOP enough credibility to fight in the 2016 general election, no matter who the party nominates.
A year ago, the electorate that was sold on electing Republicans to fight Obama would have welcomed this symbolic action. Had GOP leadership fought that fight immediately, its voters might not be looking at outsiders like Donald Trump and Ben Carson to lead the party. Ryan seems to have grasped this better than others in the upper echelons of the party, but this feels very anti-climactic now. In fact, this might end up giving Obama a better media opportunity than it will Republicans, while a year ago it would have made Obama look as though he was permanently on the defensive.