House votes to repeal Obamacare for 37th time

The House of Representatives voted again to repeal President Obama’s health-care law Thursday afternoon, marking the 37th time that the GOP-led House has tried to undo all or part of the legislation.

The vote was 229 to 195, with two Democrats joining Republicans in voting for repeal. The Democrats were Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Jim Matheson (Utah). Previous repeal votes had attracted as many as five Democrats.

This vote does not put the Affordable Care Act in jeopardy. Thursday’s repeal bill will probably meet the same fate as five others that would have eliminated the entire health-care law: It will die in the Democrat-led Senate.

But for the GOP, the point was not to change the law. At least, not right away. Instead, the point was to refocus the House — and, hopefully, a swath of the American public — on a law that remains controversial three years after it was passed. GOP leaders also wanted to give newly elected Republicans a chance to blast the law from the House floor. They took it, with gusto.

“This may be the 37th time that the House has taken up the repeal of what is known as Obamacare. But this is my first time,” said Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.).“The constituents that sent me here want my vote recorded, to repeal this poorly crafted, job-killing law.”

At least a dozen other new Republicans followed him to the microphone. The newest of all was Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who had been sworn in just the day before. “It turns upside down this American tradition of not having the government force on the consumers . . . the purchase of a product,” Sanford said. He was referring to the bill’s “individual mandate,” which requires most Americans to purchase health insurance.

So there were new actors in Thursday’s drama, but few new lines. Democrats argued — again — that repealing the law would eliminate popular features, such as the ban on lifetime caps for insurance benefits and the provision that lets children remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26.

“Here we go again. This vote is more than just a sideshow. It’s an embarrassing spectacle that has consumed House Republicans for more than two years,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.). “Republicans . . . have their legislative heads in the sand and their feet in cement.”

Republicans also reiterated arguments that they had made in previous repeal debates. They said the law will allow government intrusion in private medical matters and that it will burden businesses with new costs and paperwork.

One new wrinkle in this debate: Republicans noted that the Internal Revenue Service would be charged with enforcing major portions of the new law. With that agency now embroiled in scandal, Republicans said that what had already been a bad idea now sounded worse.

“Members, this is your chance to weigh in on the IRS scandal,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.). “A vote to repeal is a vote to stop the IRS.”

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David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.
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