Critics have denounced the Republican attempt to repeal the healthcare reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as an empty symbolic gesture, intended to make good on a campaign promise to the Tea Party. It’s all a bit of C-SPAN theater dressed up in reality-defying buzzwords. The Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act would, in fact, kill jobs, since without the ACA employers would face sharp increases in healthcare costs and reduce their workforce. And repeal would increase the federal deficit, which conservatives claim to be so worried about. But no matter, Republicans can afford to grandstand because they know the repeal bill has no chance of becoming law; tonight, it passed the House by a vote of 254 to 189, but majority leader Harry Reid has pledged to block it in the Senate, never mind Obama’s veto pen.
Maybe voters will reward the GOP for posturing; maybe they won’t. Polls vary on support for repeal depending on how the question is asked—50 percent in a recent CNN poll; just 26 percent in a Kaiser Family Foundation study—and by 2012 more tangible benefits of reform will have reached more people. But there is one group for whom the repeal show is an undeniable boon: insurance companies, which are using the vote as a giant distraction to draw attention away from their fifty-state strategy to subvert healthcare law so that it skews even more in their favor. As health insurance whistleblower Wendell Potter puts it, “The rhetoric of repeal is just a smoke screen to obscure the real objective of the ‘repeal and replace’ caucus: to preserve the sections of the law that big insurance and its business allies like and strip out the regulations and consumer protections they don’t like.”