When Obamacare finally passed the House, 34 Democrats voted no. Thirty-one of those Democrats are now running for reelection, and, not surprisingly, many of them are highlighting their opposition to the bill.
Some, such as Jason Altmire in Pennsylvania, Bobby Bright in Alabama, Glenn Nye in Virginia, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in South Dakota, Frank Kratovil in Maryland, and Glenn Nye in Virginia are actually running television ads touting their “no” votes. The bill “cost too much,” says a Nye spot. It was a “massive government takeover of health care,” according to Bright. It “wasn’t right for South Dakota,” argues Herseth Sandlin.
All of which is true. Still, one might ask: Are these Democrats really serious about opposing Obamacare, or are they just seeking political cover?
There are currently two discharge petitions in the House that would force a floor vote on repealing Obamacare. The first, sponsored by Rep. Stephen King (R., Iowa) is the most straightforward, simply repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in its entirety. A second, from Rep. Wally Herger (R., Calif.) would both repeal Obamacare and replace it with a collection of alternative proposals. All but six Republicans have signed one or the other of the petitions.
Not a single one of those 31 Democrats has signed either of those petitions.
Nothing that has come out since the bill passed back in March has made it look better. If Glenn Nye voted against it because he thought it cost too much back when it was scored as costing $950 billion, what does he think now that independent estimates suggest it may cost as much as $2.7 trillion over its first ten years of full implementation? Obamacare certainly isn’t less of a government takeover now that we know fewer and fewer Americans will be able to keep their current insurance plans. And the bill didn’t get any better for South Dakota now that we can see insurance premiums shooting through the roof.
Of course, signing a discharge petition is considered something akin to treason by the party leadership. Nancy Pelosi would be displeased. But these are candidates who are claiming to be “independent” and “standing up to Washington.” Shouldn’t they be asked to put their signatures where their mouths are?
Republicans are not completely off the hook, either. Among the six Republicans who have not signed either discharge petition are senatorial candidates Mark Kirk in Illinois and Mike Castle in Delaware. This is particularly surprising in the case of Kirk, who once vowed to “lead the effort” to repeal the health-care law.
Meanwhile, over in the Senate, a bill by Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) to repeal Obamacare has attracted only 21 cosponsors, meaning that 19 Republican senators have not yet committed to repeal. Among the scofflaws are Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and Republican conference chairman Lamar Alexander.
Nor has repeal of Obamacare been a national Republican theme. Individual candidates have, of course, made it an issue. But national Republican spokesmen have not invested the issue with a sense of urgency.
Obviously, given the Democrats’ ability to mount a Senate filibuster — even if Republicans take control of the chamber — and a certain presidential veto, outright repeal of the health-care law remains a long-shot at best in the next couple of years. Still, a willingness to support — and force a vote on — repeal can be seen as a proxy for how vigorously a legislator will support other measures to kill it, such as defunding implementation, or repealing some of the most unpopular aspects of the law, such as the individual mandate.
And if a representative or senator is not willing to stand up against a bad law when 56 percent of likely voters favor repeal (and 45 percent strongly favor it) according to the latest Rasmussen poll, how will he behave when public opinion is not so clearly on his side? Are these candidates just about casting the relatively easy vote, or are they willing to take on the heavy lifting?
Obamacare was one of the truly defining votes of recent history. But how Republicans — and anti-Obamacare Democrats — behave now will be equally defining. It’s time to stand up and be counted.
— Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.