Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 20, 2011

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF A SYMBOLIC GESTURE.... Late yesterday afternoon, right on schedule, the House passed a measure to repeal the entirety of the Affordable Care Act. No one, not even its most ardent champions, saw this as an example of serious policymaking -- the bill, such as it is, has no chance of passing the Senate, and even worse odds of getting the president's signature.

So why bother? Because the new House Republican majority, in their first major initiative, wanted to make right-wing activists feel better about themselves, while sending a signal about the GOP's priorities.

It's tempting to ignore a shallow, symbolic gesture like this, but it'd be a mistake to consider yesterday's vote unimportant. We actually learned quite a bit from this.

First, we learned that Republicans aren't great at counting votes. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) boasted this week that at least 15 Democrats would join the GOP on the repeal vote. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said there may even be a two-thirds majority in favor of repeal -- the necessary level of support to override a presidential veto. When the gavel came down, the bill passed 245 to 189 -- with a whopping three votes from conservative Democrats. So much for the GOP trash talk.

Second, we learned Republicans are still a little fuzzy on how a bill becomes a law. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) proclaimed in all-caps last night, "WE JUST REPEALED OBAMACARE!" apparently unaware that they did nothing of the sort.

Third, we learned a great deal about the values of Republican lawmakers. Jonathan Cohn explained:

Over the last year, the Republicans have spent a lot of time arguing that the Affordable Care Act will cost too much, that it will micromanage care, that it will burden business with taxes and bureaucracy. The most outrageous claims, like the notion of government-run "death panels," have zero basis in fact. And even the less explosive arguments frequently rely on flimsy evidence. But the most remarkable thing about the Republican campaign against health care reform is what the advocates of repeal haven't said.

They never bothered to engage with the fundamental moral logic behind the Affordable Care Act -- that a modern society guarantees everybody access to doctors, hospitals, and the treatments they provide; that it's wrong to sit by and watch people give up their savings, or their lives, just because they happened to get sick. They have some ideas, yes, but nothing that would come remotely close to insuring 30 million people or bolstering coverage for the people who have it.

As recently as the last debate over health care reform, in the 1990s, prominent Republicans showed sincere interest in finding common ground in order to achieve similar goals. And there are, I know, honest, caring conservatives who still feel the same way. But the Republicans in the House? If they too are committed to helping the un- and under-insured, they haven't shown it.

Fourth, we received a reminder about how much easier it is to tear down than build up. Republicans can't be bothered to do the hard work of legislating, policymaking, and problem-solving -- they find it infinitely easier to take a sledgehammer to policies that actually help people, but fail to meet their ideological standards. For all the "repeal and replace" rhetoric, the House GOP majority can't even begin to explain the "replace" part of their agenda. Even now, after two years of fighting, it's striking to realize that Republicans haven't come up with an actual health care reform plan of their own.

With yesterday's vote, Republicans effectively told American families, "We'll gut the health care system now, and maybe figure something else out later. In the meantime, good luck -- and don't get sick." Those who find this compelling probably aren't paying close enough attention.

Ezra Klein added that yesterday's vote "doesn't tell Americans much about how the Republicans would address the nation's toughest problems. After the vote total was announced, you could hear some members of the GOP clapping and cheering. And fair enough: They have a win to be happy about. But not one to be proud of."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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When the only tool you have is a (sledge) hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Corollary: When you have a tool like the Hammer, you'll probably go to jail.

And Klein is wrong. We learned a great deal about how republicans would address the nations toughest problems. First they lie about it, then they ignore it.

Posted by: bignose on January 20, 2011 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

"The most outrageous claims, like the notion of government-run "death panels," have zero basis in fact. And even the less explosive arguments frequently rely on flimsy evidence"

And someone tell me which MSM outlet will point this out as a Lie?

Oh... Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert - the most trusted names in news

Posted by: John R on January 20, 2011 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

One of AR's reps, Dem. Ross, sided with the R's and he's got one of the poorest districts with most of them w/o insurance. He won't be around next term, I hope.

Posted by: Roger on January 20, 2011 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

Obviously, Joe Wilson is ready for a senior leadership position in the GOP!!!

Not even Drudge says that ObamaCare was repealed! And everyone knows that Matt Drudge is the definitive word on government.

The only open question on Joe Wilson:
a) is he really that stupid?
b) is he really that igorant?
c) does he really believe his own b.s.?
c) or is it all of the above?

Posted by: AmusedOldVet on January 20, 2011 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

The replace portion involves allowing health insurance companies to do whatever the hell they want EXCEPT if a beneficiary ever tries to use his insurance, he gets shot. The Repugs just haven't figured out a way to package it for Das Base.

Ah, who am I kidding? The House GOP just MIGHT be clever this time. Token actions such as this are good enough to appease their scariest constituents without pissing off the more moderate voters.

Posted by: The Answer WAS Orange on January 20, 2011 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, the Republicans in "Our 'House' of Bad Yoga."
Where nothing good will come, and posturing is the only goal.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 20, 2011 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

Wendell Potter was on TV last night telling exactly what the insurance companies want - lots of new customers but they want to gut the consumer protections in the bill. Also how many repubs (when they took the vote) voted to repeal government healthcare for the GOP?
I would also bet that the new congress (tea baggers) have not so much as read the bill (not that it would make any difference) they are doing what they were told to do.

Posted by: joan on January 20, 2011 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

Seems the House Republicans have uncovered the real Death Panel - from, "You Lie!" to, You Die!

Posted by: NoLa Slim on January 20, 2011 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

We may not have learned a great deal about the GOP but we have learned a great deal about Americans who vote for such idiots. There are plenty of them who are dumber than a stone. Wait. A stone is much smarter...

Posted by: Stevio on January 20, 2011 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

A comment to those making comments...

While I consistently refer to The Corporately Owned Media, I continue to think that anyone referring to the MSM (Main Street Media) is automatically full of crap and a tool of the system. However, I did see a reference elsewhere to the M$M and I find that agreeable.

The Corporately Owned Media is 'main street' only if you believe that the millionares and billionares who own and run those corporations are 'just ordinary people looking out for the interests of other ordinary people'.

When you control the terminology that is used in 'debates', you control the debate. I.E. 'Death Panels', etc. The Corporately Owned Media are a part of the Repuklican Party machine that controls the terminology!

If you ever want to eliminate a single person from society who is the most damaging to a civil society; a good starting choice might be Frank Luntz.

Posted by: SadOldVet on January 20, 2011 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

Democrats need to defend the basic idea of the ACA and its purpose, but instead of blindly defending all of the healthcare reform bill it as is, I suggest instead a strategy of looking for improvements and reforms but in a more constructive way focussed on public interest. I want to see some Dem pols introduce measures to bring back public option, opt into Medicare, etc. Kind of hijack and co-opt the Republican pretense of "reform."

Posted by: neil b on January 20, 2011 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

They dismissed the CBO as if it was an irritant. This will cost them. Here is a great cartoon...


Posted by: Big Red on January 20, 2011 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

SadOldVet: The term MSM did, in fact, originate from the Right side of the blogosphere. However. the abbreviation stands for MainStream Media. Not Main Street Media (although, since mainstream is one word, Mainstreet does make more sense grammatically).

In any event, the term has never been intended to convey that the media reflects middle-class values.

Posted by: square1 on January 20, 2011 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

Also, it would be nice if, now that this bill has passed the House and will die in the Senate, Benen would drop his obsession with pointless GOP theatrics and focus on things that actually matter: like where the DEMOCRATS (remember them? the party that controls the Senate and the WH?) plan to take us.

Some coverage of the China visit and Obama's SOTU address would be nice. The NYT times article covering Obama's economic team and policies would be a good subject of discussion.

Posted by: square1 on January 20, 2011 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK


let's see, you are complaining because Benen is pointing out Republican callowness instead of other topics? Come back later, your topics will probably be covered, along with a bunch of other stuff you didn't think about yet.

As for the Dems "controlling" the Senate - that's hardly true with the current rules requiring the supermajority.

Posted by: Ned on January 20, 2011 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

"Even now, after two years of fighting, it's striking to realize that Republicans haven't bothered to come up with an actual health care reform plan of their own."

This point was illustrated yesterday When Utah Congressman Jim Matheson, a Democrat who voted against the original healthcare bill, voted with the majority of his Democratic colleagues, pointing out that Republicans have NOTHING to replace the exising bill despite their stated goal to "Repeal and Replace." I'm sure Matheson was one of those Democrats that Peter King was counting on in his misinformed calculation.

Posted by: Vandal on January 20, 2011 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Thank you for watching the premiere episode of Kabuki Theater 112. Join us each week as we observe inept congresscritters get their panties all knotted up over stuff that can't do anything about. And don't forget to enjoy our delicious popcorn from the snack bar!

Posted by: Marko on January 20, 2011 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

A new word for a new kind of political insanity suffered by those who would defy empirical evidence, assault the practice of making law and then improving upon it once it becomes the law of the land, and wasting taxpayer's money showcasing what is folly to begin with - fucktards, the lot of 'em! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 20, 2011 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

Sounds like Congressman YouLie needs to go back and re-watch the "I'm Just A Bill" episode of "Schoolhouse Rocks."

Posted by: Fall Line on January 20, 2011 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

It's telling that after the GOP voted to repeal Healthcare in its entirety, they decided to set up committees to explore an alternative.

They don't want Americans to have access to health care; it's just not a priority with them. They've had over two years to "explore an alternative", but they're just getting started NOW?

Yeah, sure.

Posted by: zandru on January 20, 2011 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Former Rep. Alan Grayson is still right about the GOP health care plan: don't get sick, and, if you do, please die quickly.


Posted by: Zorro on January 20, 2011 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

We also learned that, when faced with an issue on which the facts are against them, when they have no alternative ideas, they are not just willing, but eager, to use the platform of the House to repeat lies and nonsense again and again, safe in the knowledge that anything they pass will die, so they don't have to worry about a bill making sense at all, and can also add to their myth about being oppressed by the Democrats, who will be "partisans who block all our bills".

It's a beautiful PR platform and a great gig, unless you are old-fashioned and think that the US House of Representatives should do serious work to govern the country.

Posted by: biggerbox on January 20, 2011 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Ah symbolism - it is so unimportant when it doesn't symbolize what you want.

But hey keep telling people over and over again it doesn't matter - they will eventually believe it.

Oh and don't forget to practice your 2 minutes of Palin hate.

Posted by: Orwell on January 20, 2011 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Wait, wait, wait.

Republicans just spent two years droning on and on about how Democrats needed to do two things:
1. reach across the aisle and stive for bipartisanship.
2. forget everything. and just. focus. on the. economy.

So now with their first order of business they:

1. Give a big middle finger to bipartisanship passing a bill with only 3 Democrats* (*aka centrist ex-would be Republicans).
2. Give a big middle finger to the jobless passing a bill for purely theatrical results.

Now the question EVERYONE should be asking from the GOP House is, "now that you've repealed 'Obamacare', when are you going to vote on its replacement?"
If Speaker Blubber says "we won't bother to bring up a bill since it can't pass the upper chamber", then the next question should be, "why then did you spend time repealing the AHCA? Millions of jobless Americans want to know."

Posted by: Oh my on January 20, 2011 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

yes, the Repubs blew this one, but it was still a successful bone tossed to the Tea Partiers. Dems must remain on the offensive on all issues, because it's clear that Repubs will rebound and keep coming back and back, with unified b.s.

Posted by: bruce k on January 20, 2011 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) proclaimed in all-caps last night, "WE JUST REPEALED OBAMACARE!" apparently unaware that they did nothing of the sort.

Well, when you take 10 generations of inbreeding in the capitol of Southern Treason, add that to what passes for "education" in the South, then top it off with their looney fundamentalist religion, what you get is a moron who lives in an alternative universe, one where "because I think it's so, it is so" is the Organizing Rule.

Joe Wilson is the poster boy for all the reasons why the American South is the most fucked-up place on the planet. And South Carolina is the most fucked-up of the most-fucked-up.

Posted by: TCinLA on January 20, 2011 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

OK House Repubs - good work. You did what you said you would do. Fantastic.

So ... what's next?

Posted by: Jack LIndahl on January 20, 2011 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) proclaimed in all-caps last night, "WE JUST REPEALED OBAMACARE!"

You lie!

(Some punchlines just write themselves)

Posted by: "Fair and Balanced" Dave on January 20, 2011 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

TCinLA - I totally agree with your general disdain for Joe Wilson but did you have to bring up religion. For the record, I think the fundametalist religion you speak of is looney as well. But who mentioned religion? Did Joe Wilson mention it? So when you just throw out such comments for no particular reason you just look like a bigot. I don't think you are so stop confusing us.

Then you give a blanket middle finger to the entire southeastern U.S. with a particular focus on South Carolina. Once again, I know there is some evidence of your assertion but everyone, the whole place? There are lots of good honest folks there. And come on. I've been to LA. You know what they say about people who live in glass houses. Or is that Crystal Cathedrals?

Posted by: Vandal on January 20, 2011 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Today on NPR that they had snippets from the two sides on why AHCA shouldn't or should be repealed.

The Democrat cited specific people who now cannot be denied care under the "lifetime limit" provisions that used to hold. The Republican cited his wife's recent care and then said, "You wouldn't get that level of care in Canada, England, France or Germany," or words to that effect. In other words, comparing apples (AHCA still works with insurance companies and US doctors) and oranges (various versions of socialized medicine).

I found the contrast quite telling. For once, the "he said, she said" approach actually showed the weakness of the Republican view, instead of just talking points.


Posted by: Ed Drone on January 20, 2011 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Any chance you're a sharpshooter , SADOLDVET? :)

Posted by: Michael on January 20, 2011 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK



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