With the House poised to vote Friday on yet another bill to cripple President Obama's health care law, the question arises: Why do Republicans persist in their so-far futile efforts?
Democrats have many theories. Republicans, they suggest, care little about the uninsured. Many, they say, dislike Mr. Obama and want him to fail.
"The health care law has become the Republicans' great white whale," Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, said Thursday. "They will stop at nothing to kill it."
|Gary Cohen testified|
Republicans and some business owners also say they resent the way in which the law was written and passed by Democrats in 2009-10. Jeffrey S. Kelly, the chief executive of Hamill Manufacturing, a small Pennsylvania company that produces metal parts for Navy ships, made that point at a recent hearing to examine the effects of the law on businesses.
"Haven't you really reaped what you've sown?" Mr. Kelly asked House Democrats. "Look at the history of this law. It was passed without any support on the Republican side."
Though the White House and Congressional Democrats say they sought bipartisan support for the bill, Congressional Republicans argue that they were shut out of the legislative process.
"We offered 30 amendments when we were in the minority that were swatted away by the majority late into the night, not considered, not adopted," said Representative Peter Roskam, an Illinois Republican on the Ways and Means Committee.
Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas, said: "No governor of either party was involved in the development of this law, even though the administration now says, ‘We want the states to be involved and to be leaders in carrying it out.' "
With the battle over health care still raging, some lawmakers say they now understand what Thomas Jefferson meant when he said, in 1808, that "great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities," or enacted without broad support.
When Congress created Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, the majorities in both chambers were larger and more bipartisan than the ones that passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
The bill coming up in the House on Friday would prohibit enforcement of the health law by the Internal Revenue Service, the agency responsible for imposing penalties on individuals who go without insurance and on employers that fail to offer coverage.
Representative Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington, said one reason Republicans kept voting to repeal or gut the health care law was that they feared it would succeed.
"What we are hearing right now is the sound of Republican heart rates going up," Mr. McDermott said. "It's a frenetic expression of Republican anxiety over the president's signature legislation working. Washington, Oregon and California are already reporting lower rates for 2014. New York premiums were cut by 50 percent. Sick children are getting covered. The promise we made Americans is being fulfilled, and Republicans see a giant election map slowly losing red blocks."
Republicans say that public opinion is on their side. In 2011-12, the House voted more than 30 times to roll back some or all of the law, but Speaker John A. Boehner said that more votes were needed this year because freshman Republicans wanted a chance to go on the record.
Republicans were encouraged to see some Democrats voting with them last month. Twenty-two House Democrats joined them in voting to delay a crucial part of the law that requires most people to have insurance, and 35 voted to postpone a requirement that large employers offer coverage to full-time employees.
Moreover, Republicans cite concerns about the law expressed by labor unions, including the Teamsters. In a letter last month to the top Democrats in Congress, James P. Hoffa, president of the Teamsters, and two other union presidents said that perverse incentives in the Affordable Care Act were "already creating nightmare scenarios." They said that "numerous employers have begun to cut workers' hours" to avoid the cost of providing them health benefits.
Marilyn B. Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told Congress on Thursday that she had heard of only "isolated incidents" in which employers tried to cut back hours. Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, told her that she must be "living in some cocoon" because he heard of such actions almost every day.
Votes to repeal the law are also a way to unite Republicans who cannot agree on other aspects of health policy.
"Republicans have never, never, never had a comprehensive health care reform plan," said Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.
Republicans are sparring among themselves over whether they should try to block all legislation that includes money to carry out the health care law. Some of the most conservative Republicans in Congress say they are prepared to force the issue in debate over a stopgap spending bill, needed to keep the government in operation beyond Sept. 30.
"Under no circumstances will we support a continuing resolution that funds one penny of Obamacare," said Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas.
More experienced Republicans, including Senators John McCain of Arizona and Roy Blunt of Missouri, agree with the goal, but oppose the tactic, fearing that Republicans would be blamed for any government shutdown, as they were in 1995-96.
Whatever the reasons for Republicans' opposition to the law, it is unlikely that Friday's votes will be their last on the issue.
By Robert Pear
Source: The New York Times