Why Do Republicans Continue to Try to Repeal Reform? (A Method to Their Madness)

(A longer version of this post originally appeared on Healthinsurance.org  There, you will also find a link to an HIO post showing how each Representative voted—and who didn’t vote.)

Last week the House voted—for the 37th time—to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Everyone knows that repeal will never pass the Senate.  Some suggest that legislators might better spend their time (and our tax dollars) figuring out how to create jobs.

Even the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) couldn’t take this 37th vote seriously. When preparing for this latest showdown, Republican Paul Ryan requested an update to CBO’s July 2012 estimate that repealing the ACA would cost more than it would save, increasing the deficit by some $109 billion over the coming decade (2013-2022.)

CBO replied to his request: “Preparing a new estimate of the budgetary impact of repealing the Affordable Care Act would take considerable time – probably several weeks – for CBO and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, because there are hundreds of provisions in the ACA and those provisions are already in various stages of implementation. . .   We have just finished the time-consuming task of updating our baseline budget projections and need to finish our analysis of the President’s budgetary proposals.”

I like economist Jared Bernstein’s paraphrase of CBO’s response: “You guys go ahead and keep gettin’ your crazy on … over here we’re kinda busy doin’ actual work, so can’t help you right now.”

CBO added that when it does have time to do an update, it expects similar results. Repealing health care reform would add to the deficit.

                              Are Republicans Crazy . . .  Or Cunning?

You might think that by continuing to obsess over a bill that will never succeed, Republicans are once again exhibiting their self-destructive tendencies. But I would argue that House Republican leaders are not crazy, at least not in a way that is easy to understand. They’re cunning.

Ask yourself this: How many people skimmed or half-heard the news stories telling them that the House had passed a bill to repeal Obamacare?

This helps to explain why 12 percent of all Americans believe that the ACA already has been scrubbed. Every time a commentator mentions “health care reform” and “repeal” in the same sentence, the words will sink into that morass of half-truths and fictions that we call “the conventional wisdom.”

Even if people realize that the ACA  is now the law of the land, many take the repeated efforts to kill reform as a sign that there is something very wrong with the legislation.

After all, they think: “why would Republicans spend so much time trying to overturn a law if there wasn’t something terribly wrong with it?”

Of course House Republicans also voted against re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act.  (Until it became crystal clear that they were once again tossing the women’s vote under the bus.)  Then there was the time when they voted unanimously to support an anti-abortion bill that redefines rape as “coercive” (as opposed to voluntary rape?)  GOP solidarity is not necessarily a sign of clear thinking.

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Why We Are Stuck With the Sequester

A month ago, it was clear that voters would blame Republicans if Congress went ahead with the for the so-called “Sequester”—some $85 billion in automatic government-wide spending cuts.

I thought this meant that Republicans would be forced to back down, call off the Sequester, and accept the fact that if we want to reduce the deficit, we’ll need to raise some taxes while also cutting spending.

I was wrong. The sequester took effect March 1 and Republicans aren’t budging.

The public does, in fact, blame the GOP for the budget stalemate that has led to the sequester:  a recent CNN poll shows that shows that only 38 percent say they have a “favorable view ”of the Republican Party, versus 54 percent who view it unfavorably.

                                  Why Republicans Aren’t Worried

Yet House Republicans are not terribly concerned about what voters think. This is because, back in 2010, they succeeded in re-drawing election district lines in many swing states in a way that creates “safe districts” for Republicans—districts where they have a solid majority. They feel untouchable.  At the same time the new boundaries pack as many Democrats as possible into as few districts is possible.

This is a major reason why Democrats didn’t win a  House majority in 2012, even as their congressional candidates drew about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans nationwide, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. And, Bloomberg notes, the redistricting “will hinder the Democrats from regaining control of the chamber in 2014.”

District lines are re-drawn once a decade, right after the U.S. census is taken. The last census took place in 2010, and that year Democrats saw massive losses at the polls. As a result, the GOP controlled state government in key states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. This gave Republicans the power to draw congressional district lines. They seized that chance, aggressively “gerrymandering” so as to protect Republican incumbents while isolating Democrats. The fact Democrats are concentrated in urban areas made their task easier. Nevertheless, creative cartography led to some crazy designs. For instance, Bloomberg points out, “Michigan’s 14th congressional district looks like a jagged letter ’S’ lying on its side.”


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