WASHINGTON – Nearly six years have elapsed since Obamacare became law.
The Supreme Court has upheld the foundations of the law – twice. Lawmakers tried dozens of times to repeal the law – and failed every time. President Obama was re-elected after a campaign that focused in large part on the Affordable Care Act. More than 17 million people gained health care coverage.
But, like Captain Ahab and the white whale, congressional Republicans continue their quest for repeal. On Wednesday, House Republicans announced that they were joining yet another legal challenge, and Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, commander of this latest judicial Pequod, called reporters to a Capitol meeting room and declared that the very survival of the nation was at stake.
“Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fall there will be anarchy throughout the world,” Franks said, quoting Daniel Webster, before adding: “I don’t think those words have ever been more true than they are now. … This effort is a deeply committed effort to protect the United States Constitution.”
His first mate, Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas joined in the urgency. “The Supreme Court has got to take it up,” he said. “They lost all credibility with their Obamacare decision. … This is a chance for the Supreme Court to actually follow the law for a change, and I hope to God and pray to God that they will finally get something right with the Constitution.”
Alas for the lawmakers, this fishing trip appears to be headed for the same failure as the previous ones. In the latest attempt, about 50 GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate are joining friend-of-the-court briefs to get the Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare over a technicality involving the Constitution’s origination clause. But the plaintiffs lost both in district court and in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. When plaintiffs asked for a rehearing by the appellate court, they were denied again, on grounds that the Supreme Court has never in history found a law to violate the origination clause. And Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing the opinion upholding Obamacare earlier this year, indicated he wouldn’t look kindly on efforts to destroy health care markets.
Excitement over the latest effort to undo Obamacare was not high. At Wednesday’s event, there were six men behind the lectern (three lawmakers and three legal experts), but only four reporters in the audience. This may be because others in the press corps were on the other side of the Capitol on Wednesday, covering yet another effort by Senate Republicans to repeal Obamacare.
This legislative effort, like the House legal effort, is probably doomed. Senate Republicans are using a maneuver that allows them to vote to repeal Obamacare without facing a filibuster, but there are nowhere near enough votes to override a promised presidential veto. This means the legislation was nothing more than another opportunity to dust off anti-Obamacare speeches.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky): “Obamacare is a direct attack on the middle class of our country.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (Wisconsin): “The reality of Obamacare is it has been a miserable failure. … I don’t care how much lipstick you try and put on the pig we’ll call Obamacare.”
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas): “By repealing Obamacare we can craft a better way to provide health care options.”
Sen. David Perdue (Georgia): “For the sake of our kids and grandkids, we’re taking a very important step to repeal Obamacare.”
Democrats responded with a yawn. “More than 50 times they have tried to repeal it, the GOP, and they’re going to try again, and they’re going to fail again,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer of California. “Secretly, I think they hope they fail because they have nothing, nothing to replace it with.”
Failure seems to be the likely result of the House legal effort, too. It rests on the constitutional requirement that revenue-raising bills need to originate in the House. The Obamacare legislation did originate in the House, but those bringing the lawsuit claim this is only a fig leaf because the bill was rewritten in the Senate using a “strike-all” amendment, a common procedure.
“With flagrant disregard for our Constitution at an all-time high during the Obama administration, this … is in my judgment an extremely timely matter,” Franks announced.
And if the high court disagrees? The GOP lawmakers’ attorneys said there are many other possible cases to be brought – and Franks said he’d be inclined to join them. “It’s not going to go away,” he said.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.