Politics & Policy

The Battle Rejoined

The House of Representatives voted to repeal Obamacare today by a vote of 245 to 189. That’s a most fitting way for the 112th Congress to begin.

The new Republican majority was propelled into office in large part because of the party’s steadfast opposition to the new health-care law. Republican candidates promised without exception that they would vote to repeal Obamacare if they won office. Voters responded by electing more Republicans to the U.S. House than at any time since 1946. Republicans had to keep faith with their constituents and do as they said they would.

Some may argue the vote was a meaningless exercise, as the Senate is not likely to go along, and the president would veto the bill anyway in the unlikely event it was presented to him. But that kind of thinking is inconsistent with the way our government and politics work. For starters, it’s not inconceivable that a few Democratic senators, particularly those up for reelection in 2012, might welcome the chance to show disapproval of Obamacare, now that they have seen what happened to some of their House and Senate colleagues in the 2010 midterm election. Getting them on the record in that regard would be extremely important as the battle over this legislation unfolds over the coming months and years.

#ad# The argument that the repeal effort is meaningless is offered in bad faith. Everyone knew that Pres. George W. Bush would veto funding for embryonic-stem-cell funding, but no one — not even we — said Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was therefore wasting our time in advocating it. Moreover, in our constitutional system of government, the House and Senate often take positions that are opposed by the other chamber, and presidents quite regularly send proposals to Congress that are thought to be “dead on arrival.” That does not make them unimportant. The president and his allies want to create the perception that Obamacare is now a settled matter, and that Republicans should get over it. Passage by the House of full repeal makes it abundantly clear that Obamacare is far from a settled matter. That’s a crucial message to send to the public, to employers, to the states, and to participants in the health sector, as they make decisions about what is likely to happen with Obamacare in coming years.

The repeal vote is also an important statement for political accountability. The president and his allies jammed Obamacare through Congress with an arrogance not seen in many years. They had large majorities in the 111th Congress, and they were determined to use it to pass a government-run health plan, come what may. At every crucial step, they chose to go it alone with Democrats rather than compromise in any meaningful way. To get the votes for passage, they bullied opponents, bought votes, and made an end run around the Senate after Scott Brown’s victory — all because they wanted to pass their partisan and government-heavy health-care plan without any compromise whatsoever. (Procedurally, the most outrageous Democratic maneuver was to change election law in Massachusetts so that an appointed senator, Paul Kirk, could put the bill over the top.)

The only remedy for such a brazen power play is to oust those who orchestrated it at the next opportunity, which the voters did in November, and to undo the offending legislation. The House vote is just the first step toward remedying this situation and giving the American people a reform plan built on consensus, not division.

But it is just that, a first step. This will be a long struggle. The proponents of government-run health care are dug in, and will do anything to stop repeal. Republicans must bring an equal amount of determination and persistence to the fight — because the stakes could not be higher. In terms of spending, deficits, debt, and size of government, health care is the central battlefield. If Obamacare is allowed to stand, no matter what else happens, the country will move steadily toward ever higher levels of spending and taxation, slower growth and less opportunity, and lower-quality health care. That cannot be allowed to happen. And today’s vote gives us hope that it won’t.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.