Why Republicans are still obsessed with repealing Obamacare

The House Republicans on Thursday will hold their 37th vote to scrap all or parts of “Obamacare,” illustrating a determined campaign to dump a law that has been ratified by not only Congress and the president, but also the U.S. Supreme Court and American voters, who did not choose the presidential candidate (Mitt Romney) who would have either gutted or refused to implement the law.

The effort is of course doomed to fail, as the Senate won’t take up the legislation and Obama of course won’t sign it. So why are the Republicans wasting time on another vote? In part, the obsession with Obamacare is a genuine disagreement about public policy. Zero Republicans voted for the legislation as it moved through Congress in 2009 and 2010, and Republican health care policy experts strongly oppose some parts of the Affordable Care Act, particularly its expansion of Medicaid. And the most controversial parts of the law will go into effect over the next year.

But the desire for another vote shows how “Obamacare” has become like “Benghazi,” a kind of code word for strong conservative opposition to President Obama. (It’s likely that “IRS” will soon emerge as another rallying crazy for conservatives and Tea Party activists.) Newly-elected Republican members of Congress want the chance to affirm to their constituents back home that they too really hate the health care law, as there has not been a repeal vote this year after three dozen in 2011 and 2012.

“The guys who’ve been up here the last year, we can go home and say, ‘Listen, we voted 36 different times to repeal or replace Obamacare,’ ” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, according to a recent New York Times article. “Tell me, what the new guys are supposed to say?”

Unifying issues like Benghazi and Obamacare are important for the GOP, because the party is divided on so much outside of those two issues. Some party leaders want to back gay marriage and more lenient immigration laws, others argue the party should draw as strong a contrast as possible with Democrats. Some Republican senators want to work with Obama on gun control and a “grand bargain” on reducing the budget deficit, but the party’s activist base is opposed to both of those moves.

Obama and Hillary Clinton are almost universally-liked among Democrats, while many Republican activists are wary of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and the party’s other official leaders.  Republicans are criticizing the president’s policy on Syria, but are divided between a wing that wants to intervene there, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and figures like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who want to limit U.S. involvement in conflicts abroad.


Follow Perry Bacon on Twitter at @perrybaconjr.