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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 9:37 am | Fair 54º


Susan Estrich: For House GOP and Obamacare Repeal, 33rd Time Still Not the Charm

Republican lawmakers are just wasting the peoples' time and money with silly 'symbolic' votes

In a colossal waste of time, the House of Representatives earlier this month voted for the 33rd time to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care plan.

Going into the vote, there was absolutely no question as to the result and its utter futility. The Republicans voted for repeal, as they do every time, and the Democrats (with the exception of the five who voted against the bill when it passed in the first place) voted against. The repeal effort will then go nowhere in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Even if it did, it would be vetoed by Obama.

Do it once, and you make a point. Do it twice, and you reaffirm that point. Debate it for the 33rd time, and you are wasting the time and money of the people you’re supposed to be representing.

Like so much in Washington these days, the exercise in the House had absolutely nothing to do with what the House is supposed to do, which is legislate. It was pure political theater at its worst. Running a movie that we’ve already seen 32 times is beyond boring. It’s offensive.

Now, everyone understands that the health-care bill will be an issue in the fall election. Fair enough. That is where the debate belongs. If Republicans end up controlling all three branches of government, no doubt they will repeal the bill. If they don’t, they won’t. If they want to go out and campaign and give 33 — or 330 — speeches about what’s wrong with the bill, that’s what campaigns are for.

But 33 useless debates and votes on the floor of the House? Enough is enough.

The Republicans’ excuse for the vote was the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the law as a tax. But Republicans have been calling this bill a tax since Day One. Mitt Romney himself called the similar penalty in the similar bill that he sponsored and signed in Massachusetts a tax. What you call it may matter in terms of constitutional analysis, but it doesn’t make a bit of difference in terms of the latest House vote. No one changed their vote based on the label put on the bill. Everyone knew going in that it didn’t matter.

Certainly, there is nothing unusual about proposing bills with no chance of passing in the House and Senate in order to draw attention to important issues. But 33 times goes beyond reason.

The 33rd time, it’s no longer about what’s right or wrong with the bill, but what’s right or wrong with the legislative process — and the ugly partisanship in Washington.

Three days before the House vote, the latest episode of The Newsroom, the new HBO series by Aaron Sorkin, featured a scene with a respected Republican member of Congress who lost his seat in an ugly primary because he co-sponsored a bill to help homeless vets: co-sponsored it with a Democrat. I wish that scene were the work of Sorkin’s legendary imagination. Sadly, it rang true.

The “congressman,” explaining why he had worked across the aisle, said that when he was first elected, he understood that he was sent to Washington to do the people’s business and not simply his party’s, to get things done and not simply to take to the floor to score debate points. When I first went to Washington, to work in the Senate, that’s what I thought, too. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a leading conservative, and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., a liberal lion, prided themselves on their friendship and their ability to work together on bills that would help people regardless of party.

No permanent enemies, no permanent friends, we used to say. Debate during the day, and then have a drink after the vote.

No more. And guess who loses? Not the proponents of health care or the opponents, but We the People who sent them there.

— Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

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