Obamacare's opponents just won't stop

by Robert I. Field, Ph.D., J.D., M.P.H.

Will they ever give up? House Republicans have devised yet another plan to try to undermine the health reform law. This one is an attempt at an end-run around the Supreme Court ruling that upheld it.

The Court found that the law’s individual mandate to maintain health insurance is constitutional. It reasoned that the penalty for failure to comply with it functions in the same way as a tax. As such, Congress has broad power under the Constitution to impose it.

The end-run takes that form of an amendment to the law introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) to “clarify” that the penalty shall not be construed as a tax. The measure has four Republican co-sponsors.

What’s the point? The Supreme Court found that it makes no difference what Congress actually calls the mandate’s penalty, as long as it functions like a tax. The Labrador bill would have no effect on the way the mandate functions, so in the Court’s eyes, the clarification would be meaningless.

And even if it did have some meaning, the Court isn’t going to re-hear the case.

Moreover, the bill has no chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Senate or of surviving a certain veto by President Obama.

Obamacare’s opponents have now failed both in their attempt to have the law declared unconstitutional by the courts and in 33 attempts to repeal it in Congress. Isn’t it time they moved on to something else?

It’s not as if they have nothing else to worry about. The House has been debating bills on a range of pressing issues like cyber security, taxes, and emergency farm relief, without anything to show for it. Time spent seeking consensus on issues like those would be much better spent than time spent on yet another futile attempt to revisit health reform.

And most of the country seems to agree. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll, 54% of respondents said they were tired of hearing lawmakers debate the health care law and would like them to move on to other issues.

If Obamacare’s opponents want to do something productive, they could come up with an alternative that has a chance of reducing the number of uninsured as effectively. They have yet to propose anything. 

That is, if they truly want to do something productive.