WASHINGTON — Just shy of the three-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act becoming law, Republicans in Congress took another vote to cut funding to the program.
But pretty much everyone admits it was just for show.
"It's really important to demonstrate that if you're going to head toward a balanced budget, you actually can't have these types of programs that explode the spending," said Republican Rep. David Schweikert on Thursday after he placed his vote, albeit nonbinding, for Rep. Paul Ryan's budget, which proposed cutting funding for the health care law.
Saturday will mark three years since the president signed "Obamacare" into law, and for three years Republicans have been waging a relentless, multi-front war on the president's signature achievement — on the campaign trail, on cable news, and in the Supreme Court, which upheld the law in June. But while the battle has continued, most Republicans acknowledge they are just going through the motions at this point.
Since it became law, House Republicans have voted dozens of times to defund all or part of the Affordable Care Act. In the Senate this month, Sen. Ted Cruz proposed defunding the measure, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell later spoke on the Senate floor in support of such a path.
"I've spoken about 100 times on the Senate floor against Obamacare, and I've warned against its consequences: increased premiums, lost jobs and higher taxes," McConnell said. He added, "It needs to be pulled out by its roots, and we need to start all over. This bill needs to be repealed, and it needs to be replaced."
But few within the GOP are deluded about the how little their votes and speeches have accomplished. Privately, Republicans concede that the fight to defund the health-care law has been lost — at least for now.
"We recognize that we don't control the Senate or the White House, so votes to defund will not be successful," a House Republican aide said. "But what we are confident about is that over the next year, the pain of Obamacare will be felt as premiums go up and businesses mull the massive new costs and whether to drop coverage."
At this stage, votes to defund the law are carried out mostly to placate the most conservative members of Congress, the aide said.
That conservative contingent is growing restless, even as the health care law has fallen out of mainstream political discourse, and some lawmakers have floated the idea of tying the fate of the next debt limit increase to no less than defunding the Affordable Care Act.
"We've kicked this around internally, and some of the things we'd like to have are maybe the Boehner rule — for every dollar increase in the debt ceiling, we have a dollar of savings — or tie it to Obamacare," Rep. Jim Jordan said at a panel discussion Wednesday featuring the most prominent conservatives in the House.
House Republican leadership, well aware of the comical number of votes lawmakers have already taken to defund the law, likely won't warm to that tack.
"There will be opportunities ahead," Boehner said last week in an interview with Sean Hannity. "But do you want to risk the full faith and credit of the United States government over ObamaCare? That's a very tough argument to make."