The new conventional wisdom has dictated that today’s vote to repeal Obamacare is a pointless, “symbolic,” gesture. Apparently, because Sen. Harry Reid is unlikely to allow a vote in the Senate, and the president would veto repeal if it managed to beat the odds and get to his desk, the whole exercise is a waste of time.
How the tables have turned! Back when Nancy Pelosi was speaker, the legacy media bemoaned the fact (as of last October) that the House had passed 420 bills that the Senate had not taken up. Journalists would never have dared label these bills “symbolic.” Rather, the problem was a “gap in productivity” between an energetic and progressive people’s chamber and the Jurassic Senate, where archaic rules empowered a rump to block critical agenda items.
Today, a rambunctious and reckless Tea-Party–fuelled House majority is threatening to upset last year’s singular legislative achievement. Thank Providence the Senate is likely to spare the president embarrassment by preventing the repeal bill from arriving at his desk! Well, we will see what happens. Even if the House bill does not reach the Senate floor for debate, the House’s repeal is important for two reasons.
First, it demonstrates that the House majority’s commitment to the Constitution is not limited to reciting it on the first day of the session. The Constitution divides the federal government into three branches, and the legislature further into two chambers, each body with a sworn duty to repeal legislation that it believes is unconstitutional — notwithstanding the beliefs of the other chamber or the president.
Second, it puts the Republicans on the record. Moving beyond talking points to actually voting is no small achievement, especially because the Republican alternative to Obamacare (as described in the “Pledge to America”) is little more than a mish-mash of crowd-pleasing sound bites — “Obamacare-lite,” if you will. Virtually no corporate interest in the health sector is agitating for repeal. (Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a Johnny-come-lately to the fight.) Instead, conservative and libertarian grassroots organizations, intellectually fuelled by a small number of free-market health-policy wonks, are driving this train. The repeal vote shows that the Republicans now understand this, and buys them two years to focus on the reform that really needs to happen: Eliminating our employers’ monopoly control of our health benefits, and giving the tax benefit to individuals and families instead.
Even more importantly, it will influence the corporate interests to take repeal seriously. Except for concierge doctors and laser-eye surgical centers, almost everyone in the medical sector is too dependent on government to act in the public interest on this issue. (There’s actually a pretty good argument that the Bush Administration enabled Obamacare by forcing through the Medicare Part D drug benefit, which made the brand-name pharmaceutical industry dependent on the federal government for its revenues.) No, I am not expecting the CEO of Merck & Co. or CIGNA to stand at the podium, shake his fist, and scream for repeal. However, the investment decisions that they make over the next two years will largely determine the fate of Obamacare. Every step that discourages them from throwing good money after bad in support of Obamacare will increase the likelihood of full repeal in 2013.