Observers watching the Senate on the afternoon of March 13 could be forgiven for feeling a little bit of déjà vu. Senators were once again voting on a motion to try to disable the 2010 health care overhaul — this time by delaying any funding for the law, courtesy of an amendment from Republican freshman Ted Cruz of Texas.
As they have done before, Senate Democrats beat back the effort, and the amendment fell, 45-52, on a party-line vote.
Nine days later, they did it again. During votes on the Senate budget resolution (S Con Res 8), Cruz offered an amendment to provide for the repeal of the law, which the Senate defeated, 45-54.
Since President Barack Obama signed the bill into law in March 2010, lawmakers have voted more than 30 times on measures to repeal or defund all or part of the health care overhaul. Also during that time, the Supreme Court largely upheld the law as constitutional, and Obama won re-election over an opponent who said he would begin to repeal the law on the first day of his presidency. Despite these setbacks, congressional Republicans have continued to beat the “repeal” drum.
In the past three years, polls have shown a slow but perceptible movement among the public toward acceptance of the law. And as deficit concerns and economic woes took center stage, the health care law became a less important issue among the overall public.
But pollsters and GOP lawmakers say Republicans can keep pushing for full repeal without big consequences. New members want to make sure their constituents know where they stand, and conservative groups want to make sure other members aren’t weakening their stance. And perhaps the biggest reason to keep fighting for repeal is that Republican voters back home remain dead-set against the overhaul they deride as “Obamacare.”
“Republicans have absolutely nothing to lose by continuing to raise the issue,” says Robert J. Blendon, a health policy professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who directs the Harvard Opinion Research Program. “Republicans don’t like this bill. They have not changed. So if I am a Republican and I’m a House member, particularly that comes from a district that’s mostly Republican, there is no downside for me being against this bill.”
Base vs. Base
Public support for the law appears to be inching up. In a CNN/ORC poll from January, 51 percent of respondents said they favor all or most of the law, compared with 45 percent who said the same in January 2011. A CBS News/New York Times poll from January found that 42 percent of respondents wanted to expand the law or keep it as is. Last July, 32 percent of people chose those options.
There remains, though, a strong partisan divide when it comes to the law. In a January survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, a small majority (52 percent) of total respondents said the law’s opponents should continue to try to change or stop it. But 67 percent of Democrats surveyed said they wanted to see opponents cease their efforts, while 78 percent of Republicans said the law’s opponents should continue. Among independents, 59 percent said lawmakers should endeavor to stop or change the law.