The Real Reason Republicans Are Voting for 40th Time on Health Care

GOP may look silly in Washington, back home, they are adored.


House Speaker John Boehner takes questions as Congress prepares to leave for a five-week recess, which Republicans may use to criticize the president's health care law in their home districts.

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House Republicans are not delusional. They know that any legislation to dismantle, defund, or repeal the Affordable Care Act isn't going anywhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate no matter how cunning of a bill name they craft. Case in point, this week's "Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act."

[REPORT: Effort To Kill 'Obamacare' With Shutdown Threat Won't Work]

For Republicans, 40 assaults on "Obamacare," the president's legacy legislation, is about ginning up support among their base and uniting the party. Disdain for the Affordable Care Act is about the only thing uniting Republicans these days.

Even cutting spending, a core tenet of the party's identity seems to divide the GOP.

Wednesday, Republican leadership was forced to pull two appropriations bills from the House floor because, while cutting spending is appealing in the abstract, when it comes to shaving waste, leaders couldn't get 218 lawmakers to agree on a plan.

It wasn't the first time leadership failed to convince their majority to vote with them. Republican rebellions aided the failure of a farm bill earlier this year and in January, intraparty squabbles kept Speaker John Boehner from bringing his "Plan B" bill to the floor, nearly pushing the country over the fiscal cliff.

The commitment in the House to dismantle health care may seem like a waste of time to beltway insiders, but it sets most GOP lawmakers back home as principled representatives fighting against the Washington establishment. They may not be passing legislation, but they are voting to repeal an overwhelmingly unpopular bill back home. The latest Pew poll shows a majority of Americans are worried the Affordable Care Act won't make their lives better, but a much greater number of Republicans say they want to see the bill completely dismantled.

[READ: Obama Slams Health Care Law Critics]

Of the 435 seats in the House, 220 of them lean GOP, 191 of those are Republican strongholds. A growing number of safe GOP districts has created echo chambers all over the country where repeal votes are constituent red meat.

"A lot of the new members in particular came to the House to repeal Obamacare," says Ford O'Connell, a GOP campaign strategist and pundit. "They want to use Obamacare as a mechanism to boost their numbers in 2014."

O'Connell, however, warns that focusing solely on health care and failing to effectively legislate could make the GOP vulnerable in the midterms.

In the Senate, a conservative faction of the GOP is also planning on devoting much of its time in August to push for a plan to defund the plan. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, will travel to nine cities across the country with the conservative Heritage Foundation, hosting town hall meetings on why the law should be defunded.

A group of 12 lawmakers has threatened a government shutdown if Democrats present a stopgap measure in the Senate that would fund the Affordable Care Act, setting up a possible fiscal showdown that could bring the government to the brink.

[DEBATE CLUB: Should Congress Repeal the Affordable Care Act?]

Democrats, however, have their own plan to use the House GOP's obsession with repealing the law to their advantage.

Progressive advocacy group Americans United for Change will be hosting a slew of town hall meetings in Democratic and swing districts to make the case for why health care can benefit constituents. The advocacy group will also be encouraging Democratic voters to go out to town halls, ask tough questions and record lawmakers responses through their "accountable Congress" effort.

"There is more work to be done to promote what Obamacare means for millions of Americans," says Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for Americans United for Change. "We are going to turn this ship around. Democrats don't need to be on the defensive about Obamacare. Republicans need to be on the defensive. They are the ones who have more to explain."

What is unclear, however, is whether the 2013 recess will lead to the explosive exchanges of 2009 and 2010 that helped Republicans win a landslide during the president's first midterm election.