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Why the Health Care Repeal Vote Really is Just Symbolic

January 19, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Later today, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill to repeal health care reform, and it is expected to pass (UPDATE: the repeal bill passed by a vote of 245-189). But don’t be fooled — it is purely symbolic and there is no chance that it will become law. Here are three reasons why.

1) Senate Majority Leader Reid will never take it up. Remember, bills have to be approved by the House and the Senate before they can become law, and the Democrats still control the Senate. The Democratic Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV], has almost total control over what measures are voted on, and having spent most of the previous session working to pass the health care reform law, there’s no way he would decide now to hold a vote on repealing it. Now, there is a way that Senate Republicans can attempt to override Reid’s decision not to vote on it. They can object to the second reading of it when it is sent up from the House, putting it directly on the Senate calendar, and file a cloture petition on a motion to proceed to it. A day and an hour after the the petition is filed, the Senate would have to vote on ending debate of whether or not to debate the repeal bill. That motion takes 60 votes to pass, but the Republicans only have 47 seats.

2) Even if he did, the votes aren’t there in the Senate. If for some reason Reid is feeling generous and decides try to bring the repeal bill up for a vote, rank-and-file Democrats would object and force repeal-supporters to take a cloture vote, which, again, takes 60 votes. Thanks to a repeal vote that was forced last year by Sen. David Vitter [R, LA], we know that none of the Democrats from the 111th Congress want a repeal. There is only one new Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Richard Blumenthal [D, CT], and he has said that he supports the health care reform bill and wants to go further. So the Republicans are still 13 votes short of being able to invoke cloture on a theoretical Reid motion to debate the repeal bill.

3) Obama would veto. As if scenario 2), Reid calling for a repeal vote, wasn’t ridiculous enough, let’s consider what would happen if the Senate and House passed the repeal bill and sent it to Obama. There’s no need to speculate here — Obama has already issued a statement of administration policy that he would veto the repeal, saying it would “explode the deficit, raise costs for the American people and businesses, deny an estimated 32 million people health insurance, and take us back to the days when insurers could deny, limit or drop coverage for any American.” To override the veto, the Senate and House would both have to find 2/3rds supermajorities. The Republicans are far short of a supermajority in both chambers, by 49 in the House and by 20 in the Senate.

The fact that this bill is just a symbolic political move makes it less of a big deal that the Republicans are bringing it up under a closed rule, despite saying on the campaign trail that they would use open rules, and without accounting for its $230 billion impact on the deficit, despite their pledge to offset all new deficit costs with corresponding spending cuts. Open debate rules and hard-line budget discipline are good for serious legislating, but when working on political fluff bills like the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act,” it’s only appropriate to set them aside and just plow through.

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