In what has become an annual tradition, the Republican-led House of Representatives on Thursday voted again to fully repeal the federal health care law passed by Democrats and signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.
The House first voted for full repeal in January 2011 when Republicans took control of the chamber, and again in July 2012 after the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the law was constitutional. Thursday's vote marks the third time the House has passed full repeal, but the first since members were sworn in to the 113th Congress in January. Like the votes in 2011 and 2012, the measure will die with the House as the Democrat-majority Senate is not expected to take up the repeal bill.
Republican leaders defended the decision to hold another vote on the bill on Thursday, while Democrats chastised them for holding the same vote repeatedly.
"Some critics have suggested it's a waste of time," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters at his weekly press briefing on Thursday. "Well, while our goal is to repeal all of Obamacare, I would remind you that the president has signed into law seven different bills that repeal or defunded parts of that law. Is it enough? No. Full repeal is needed to keep this law from doing more damage to our economy without raising health care costs."
Last month, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor proposed a Republican alternative health care bill that included some of the more popular parts of the Democratic law, but GOP leaders decided to pull the bill from the floor without holding a vote due to lack of support from the conservative wing of the party.
House Democrats used the occasion on Thursday to revisit the benefits of the law and blast Republicans for spending so much time repealing it.
"Not only is this a clear waste of time and of taxpayer dollars, it is a deliberate vote to eliminate affordable quality health care benefits millions of Americans are already enjoying," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.
Politically, however, the vote is important, because it offers the 36 new members of Congress an opportunity to say they officially supported or opposed the law. Democrats in conservative districts can use it to shore up their Blue Dog bona fides and GOP freshmen can return to their districts and say they're actively working to defeat the president's health care law. Similarly, Democrats with large liberal constituencies can use their vote against repeal as a hammer against Republican challengers.
House Democrats have already offered hints of how they would use the repeal efforts against Republicans during next year's midterm election: This week, they launched a robocall campaign against 10 lawmakers across the country, and they have plans for an online ad campaign in those districts to run through the weekend.