Boehner's Gift to Freshmen: Another Vote on Obamacare

Boehner's Gift to Freshmen: Another Vote on Obamacare
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Republican leaders in Congress weren’t coy about why they held a vote Tuesday to repeal the Affordable Care Act: to give new members a chance to go on record against Obamacare. But three GOP freshmen had other ideas, joining the entire Democratic side in voting against the repeal.

Republican Reps. Robert Dold of Illinois, John Katko of New York and Bruce Poliquin of Maine voted against the full repeal of Obamacare along with 183 Democrats. The vote passed the House easily, however, with 239 Republicans supporting repeal.

This marked the 56th time the House has voted to roll back the president’s signature health care law and the fourth time the chamber has voted for a full repeal. This time, Republicans included in the bill instructions to develop a replacement for the law – though the bill didn’t include what the replacement would be.

Earlier, at the White House, President Obama met with 10 people who had written him letters about how the health care law had helped them. “My understanding is the House of Representatives has scheduled yet another vote today to take health care away from the folks sitting around this table," Obama said. "I don’t know if it’s the 55th or the 60th time that they are taking this vote, but I’ve asked this question before: Why is it this would be at the top of their agenda?” The president said Republicans' persistent efforts to reverse the law "make absolutely no sense." 

Many GOP freshmen made campaign promises to do everything in their power to repeal the ACA, and 41 of them kept their word Tuesday by supporting the repeal. House Speaker John Boehner didn’t hide the fact that this vote was, at least in part, about giving them a chance to fulfill their anti-Obamacare pledges.   

“We have 47 new members of Congress on the Republican side who have never had the chance to cast their vote to repeal Obamacare,” Boehner told Fox News’ Brett Baier last week when asked why he would hold another vote repealing the ACA.

The three GOP newcomers who voted against repeal all said in statements that they don’t support the Affordable Care Act as health care policy, but had specific reasons to oppose repealing it. 

“Had Congress voted for the full repeal of Obamacare two years ago, families and small businesses would have been able to adjust to the change. Now, however, more than 60,000 Mainers have invested their time and energy in choosing health care plans that work for their families,” Poliquin said in a statement. He added that Congress should provide a “free market alternative” before repealing the health care law.

Dold voted against repeal for similar reasons, saying in a statement that Obamacare was the wrong way to fix the health care system, but Congress needs bipartisan reforms that the president would actually sign.

“Casting yet another symbolic vote for full repeal of the law, without any replacement legislation, simply distracts us from the work that must be done to drive costs down, restore access to care and make health care work for everyone,” said Dold, who first served in the House from 2011 to 2013, was turned out, then won election again this November.

Katko, in his statement, said reforms should include some provisions from Obamacare, including protecting those with pre-existing conditions and allowing young people under 26 to stay on their parents’ plans.

“I am disappointed that the bill taken up by Congress today did not provide a real solution to the rising costs of health care, but I will continue to fight for comprehensive, bipartisan health care reform,” Katko said.

The repeal measure did more than just allow new members the opportunity to cast their first votes against Obamacare. It also gave old members the chance to reaffirm their strong opposition to it and gave many freshmen the chance to speak on the House floor about one of the biggest talking points in politics.   

In debate prior to the vote, at least seven newcomers spoke on the floor about Obamacare. GOP Reps. Tom Emmer, Mimi Walters, John Moolenaar, Gary Palmer and French Hill spoke out against the legislation, while two freshmen Democrats, Reps. Debbie Dingell and Brendan Boyle, spoke in favor.

Boyle used his speech as an opportunity to flip the script on the GOP, thanking the majority for giving him a chance to state his support of Obamacare.

“As a new member, I haven’t had the opportunity to speak on this issue on the House floor or vote on it. When I saw that the previous Congress had voted 55 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, I was a little concerned that I would miss all the fun,” Boyle said. “So I’m very happy that we now have a 56th vote on this issue and it gives me an opportunity to say what a strong supporter I am of the Affordable Care Act.”

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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