Most members of the Republican and Democratic House caucuses are marching cheerfully toward yet another vote on the repeal of ObamaCare Wednesday, leaving a small, cowed minority in the middle cringing at the prospect.
Conventional wisdom holds that “show votes” like Wednesday’s – which will mark the 33rd attempt by the GOP to repeal all or part of Obama’s signature legislative achievement – put Democrats in a “tough” position of backing an unpopular law and threatening their reelection chances.
But in reality, only the dwindling handful of centrist members find themselves in a bind, while the rest of their colleagues gleefully sharpen their partisan knives, eager for another chance to demonstrate their differences for a voting public only now beginning to tune into this year’s election.
“You take that 33rd vote because you figure the 33rd time is a charm,” one Republican leadership aide quipped to BuzzFeed.
In fact, senior officials on both sides acknowledged, most House members will actually benefit from the endless repeal votes.
“It’s wildly optimistic to say you’re putting all Democrats in a box or you’re putting all Republicans in a box.” said Rodell Mollineau,, a former top strategist to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and now president of the Democratic SuperPAC American Bridge. “No … you’re talking about a finite group of people on either side that are effected by these message votes.”
The House Republican leadership, though, has driven repeal hard and repeatedly, in part to placate Tea Party members whose idle hands might otherwise get up to more distracting work, and in part to boost the majority of the caucus, whose constituents intensely dislike the health care bill.
The previous 32 repeal votes have, in fact, included two kinds of measure: Broad repeal efforts like the one scheduled for Wednesday, and narrower votes aimed at specific aspects of the healthcare overhaul.
“There are parts of this [law] that are politically unpopular … and you can take votes on those,” said a Republican aide. “These aren’t quite show votes, these are work horse votes that actually have a chance in hell of getting through,” he said, pointing to notably last year’s successful repeal of a small business tax provision.
“If you ask five people what the worst part of Obamacare is, you’re going to get five different answers. By taking those individual, smaller votes, you have a chance to play to each individual constituency on what they care about,” the aide said.
“It really does allow us … to talk about the law in a granular level, and help folks back home understand how this law effects them,” the aide said.
But don’t let Democrats’ complaints about the health care vote fool you. For much President Obama’s party, occupying safely Democratic seats, these sorts of exercises carry much of the same as much political weight as for Republicans.
In fact, even as Republicans were announcing their latest repeal vote late last month, Democrats were leaping into action, using the decision to push their year long message that Republicans have failed to take action to strengthen the economy.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office Monday released a web video entitled “GOP Wasting Time on a Message Vote to Nowhere” that slams Speaker John Boehner and Republicans for “wasting our time.”
Other party leaders have taken a similar tack.
“This is another one of their message weeks devoted solely to the politics of their base and not to the growth of our economy and to helping America's working class, America's middle class. It's all about base messaging and not about building the economy,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday.
“This really works for both sides,” the GOP leadership aide acknowledged.
Indeed, the health care vote, as well as likely votes on extension of all or part of the Bush-era tax cuts, also play directly into Democrats’ argument that Republicans are simply looking out for their wealthiest donors.
“I expect they’re going to use a class warfare argument, that Republicans are supporting millionaires and billionaires,” acknowledged Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist.
The losers on Capitol Hill, then, are few and far between: only three Democrats -- Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, and Mike Ross of Arkansas – broke with the leadership last year and voted for full repeal. And while Boren and Ross have announced they are retiring, McIntyre and fellow Borth Carolina Rep. Larry Kissell – who has said he will vote with Republicans Wednesday – are part of a rapidly shrinking group of Democrats squeezed into genuinely competitive districts.
John Stanton is a senior national correspondent for BuzzFeed News. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
Contact John Stanton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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