Meaningless Votes

By Kellyn Brown

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal Obamacare – for the 33rd time. After the 244-185 decision, Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg said, “This law will actually do more harm to our health care system than good, and on top of that, it’s also holding back our economy.”

Also last week, the Montana secretary of state’s office announced that I-166, which says “corporations are not human beings with the same rights as human beings,” had earned enough signatures to make it on the ballot. Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester, who is defending his seat against Rehberg, said, “I look forward to joining a majority of Montanans in November in supporting this important initiative.”

For now, the votes cast against Obamacare, and those that will be cast for I-166, are relatively pointless. The U.S. Senate will vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act, just like it has dozens of times before. And the latest state initiative is largely symbolic since judges have continued to rule that the Citizens United decision, which allows corporate third-party spending in elections, is the law of the land.

Both issues are certainly consequential, but neither are going to change between now and the general election. And they are, apparently, still all anyone running for office wants to talk about.

Each is a political winner. Rehberg can campaign against Tester’s vote for a law that is unpopular in Montana and tie him to a president that is equally so. For his part, Tester can paint Rehberg as out of touch for siding with corporations and against the will of Montanans.

The path to overturning Obamacare is actually an easier one, but still daunting. A Supreme Court justice could retire, which never happens, and a newly appointed judge could flip the 5-4 split. Or Republicans would need to retain the House, retake the Senate and Mitt Romney must win the White House. Then the Senate would have to overcome a filibuster by either gathering 60 votes or taking advantage of complicated rules to get around it. Daunting but doable.

Meanwhile, to overturn Citizens United would essentially take a miracle, despite I-166’s prominent backers, which include Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. A Supreme Court justice could retire (see above). Or, we could change the U.S. Constitution, which requires supermajority support in Congress, then ratifications by a supermajority of states. That’s a tall order.

Yet these are the issues sucking up much of the political air. It’s symbolism over substance at a time when many voters are worried about their job security and their kids’ future.

Instead of simply voting to repeal Obamacare, Republicans should come up with an alternative plan that is better. Few in either party can argue with a straight face that the current system is working, not when American life expectancy ranks 38th in the world, one spot behind Cuba.

And Democrats, who are constantly complaining about corporate money, should instead come up with real legislation that reforms the system by requiring all this money to be disclosed properly. Neither party really wants to turn away cash, but both should strive for transparency.

It’s much easier to criticize an opponent than to come up with original ideas, but it’s also lazy. In these instances, if candidates don’t have any viable alternatives to their challengers’ ideas, perhaps they can move on to more pressing issues – like how to speed up this economic recovery.

That’s what many of us in the northwest part of the state, where unemployment is still persistently high, want to know. How are you going to create jobs? How about answering that, instead of casting meaningless votes.