The Republican-led House of Representatives Friday will vote for the 40th time to roll back the Affordable Care Act. While symbolically meaningful, this vote will be as futile as the last 39 votes to repeal the law. Obviously, the Democratic-led Senate would never pass a repeal bill, and President Obama would never sign it.
The Republican Party remains as committed as ever to repealing or at least dismantling the mammoth health care law that Democrats pushed through Congress in 2010 with zero GOP support. But after years of railing against the law and dozens of votes against it, Republicans are now divided over the best way to attack it.
While the House continues to hold votes to repeal the law, a group of Senate Republicans are leading a campaign to defund the measure. Conservatives at the state level, meanwhile, have resisted implementing the law. All of these efforts have had some impact on the law so far, but for all practical purposes, it appears at this point that Obamacare is here to stay.
This week's vote is on a bill specifically to stop the IRS from implementing the portions of Obamacare that it's responsible for, such as helping to enforce the individual mandate and giving consumers subsidies with which to purchase insurance. The bill, called the Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act of 2013, seizes not only on conservatives' fierce opposition to Obamacare, but also to their relatively new concerns about the IRS in the wake of its targeting of tea party groups.
"After all we've learned about the IRS and its conduct, the last thing we want is the IRS into protected health care information of taxpayers," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said to reporters Wednesday.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the Senate's most outspoken conservatives, said Tuesday that if the law isn't stopped now -- before it is fully implemented -- it may never be. "No major entitlement, once it has been implemented, has ever been unwound," he said. "If we don't do it now, in all likelihood we never will."
That said, even Cruz acknowledged House's repeal votes are getting tiresome. "Those votes were, by and large, empty, symbolic votes that had zero chance of passing," he said.
Cruz has signed onto an initiative, led by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to block any government funding bill that includes any funds that would go towards the implementation of Obamacare. The idea would presumably give conservatives leverage on the matter, since Congress needs to pass a government funding bill by Sept. 30 or risk letting parts of the government shut down.
While a number of conservatives have joined this campaign, multiple Republicans -- skeptical of the idea's effectiveness and also wary of shutting the government down -- have dismissed it as a gimmick.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., called it the "dumbest idea" he had ever heard, while Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warned against more shutdown "shenanigans." Some senators who initially backed the idea, like Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have rescinded their support for it.
To back up the skepticism, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., asked the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service to produce a report on whether a government shutdown would stop the implementation of Obamacare. The CRS reported that a shutdown wouldn't change much.