GOP tests the meaning of insanity
Well, this is embarrassing. Republicans have made so many attempts to repeal "Obamacare" that the scorekeepers have lost count.
"Republicans," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "voted to repeal it 40 times."
"Their 38th vote to repeal," Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, tallied Wednesday on the House floor.
"Thirty-nine times," declared New York Rep. Louise Slaughter, the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee.
"The House has tried nearly 40 times," the White House asserted.
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, wasn't sure. The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee's health subcommittee referred to criticism that "Republicans are trying for the 38th or 39th time to repeal Obamacare."
Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon observed that "my good friend, the chairman, couldn't even reference exactly how many times they've tried to repeal it."
But let's not pick on Brady. All the tallies fall well short of the actual number of times Congress has voted to repeal all or part of Obamacare. It has done that -- are you sitting down? -- 67 times.
According to Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post's fact checker, there were 37 votes to scale back Obamacare before two votes Wednesday in the House. But those 39 don't include the Senate, where Reid's office has documented 28 votes, all but a couple in the form of Republican amendments. This might explain the new findings that Congress is holding more votes than ever but passing fewer bills.
The 66th and 67th attempts went much like the previous 65, except for a mid-debate recess so that lawmakers could have their official photograph taken on the House floor.
"This bill is unraveling before us," exulted Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, reported that "the train is not coming off the rails; it's already off the rails."
On the Democratic side, Rep. John Dingell of Michigan responded by saying, "Einstein observed that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again with the full expectation that the results are going to be different." Actually, the quote is probably apocryphal -- but Einstein didn't live to see the 113th Congress.
The proposals on the floor Wednesday were relatively mild: One codified the delay in the law's employer mandate already announced by the Obama administration, and one extended the delay to the individual mandate. And Republicans weren't entirely logical or consistent in advancing these proposals. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, accused the Obama administration of ushering in "socialism," while Brady argued the contradictory position that the White House is "just listening to the voices of business" and ignoring "Joe Six-pack."
But Republican lawmakers were clear about one thing: The tally of attempts will continue to rise.
"Postponing the two mandates are only the latest steps to repeal Obamacare," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida said on the floor.
Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana explained that "each day this law is delayed gives us more time to seek its total repeal."
The overkill isn't irrational. As The Washington Post's Sarah Kliff noted, research shows that people resist regulations more vigorously if they think the requirements will eventually be repealed. "If it's 37, 38, 39, I don't care," Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., said this week. "If we do it 100 times, sooner or later we'll get it right."
And so Republicans continue to tee up the repeal votes -- far more than anybody realized.
"Thirty, 40 times we're talking about repealing it," protested Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y.
Or was it, as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., posited, "the 38th time"?
"I kind of lost track," confessed Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.
It's OK, Congressman. So did everyone else.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.