4 Identical Health Care Bills: Who Picks Which?

In the wake of the passage of health care reform by both houses of Congress in March 2010, Republican legislators rushed for the title of The One who introduced repeal legislation. In the last days of March, representatives Michele Bachmann of Minnesota (H.R. 4903), Steve King of Iowa (H.R. 4972), Jerry Moran of Kansas (H.R. 4901) and Connie Mack of Florida (H.R. 4919) introduced absolutely identical pieces of legislation — identical right down to the letter — to repeal health care coverage legislation. Each of these four members of Congress has sent out publicity materials claiming to be The One who is spearheading health care reform repeal, and backing up the claim with referral to of one of these four bills.

If you are one of the other 431 members of the House of Representatives, you’re faced with a succession of two choices. First, do you choose to support the drive to repeal health care reform or not? The most straightforward way to support health care reform repeal in the House is by cosponsoring a piece of legislation — that is, by signing your name onto it as an indication of formal support. Second, if you choose to cosponsor health care reform repeal legislation, which bill do you sign your name to? Differences between the bills won’t help you decide in this case, because there are no differences between the four bills. The only difference is the name of the sponsor on top. The choices cosponsors make between bills is a reflection, at least in part, on their relationships with sponsors.

The four identical bills have wildly different numbers of cosponsors, and it’s hard to avoid interpreting those different levels of cosponsorship as a measure of popularity. Steve King and Michele Bachmann are the belles of the ball in this regard, having respectively attracted 40 and 37 cosponsors for their bills. Identical bills introduced the same week by Connie Mack and Jerry Moran only attracted 4 and 3 cosponsors, respectively. Is it that Bachmann and King worked harder than Mack and Moran to recruit the support of their cosponsors, or is it more that Mack and Moran are personally less well known or liked? Without on-the-floor knowledge, it’s impossible to say for sure, but some greater attraction to the legislative personalities of King and Bachmann can’t be denied. That King attracted 40 cosponsors even though his copy of the bill was introduced last, and that Moran attracted only 3 cosponsors even though his copy of the bill was introduced first, makes the contrast stand out even more starkly.

Multiple cosponsorship is a strategy for those interested in indicating that they are really, really, really, really in favor of health care coverage repeal. Walter Jones of North Carolina is the one representative with that greatest level of interest, acting to cosponsor all four copies of the repeal bill. John Duncan of Tennessee, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, Gary Miller of California, Mark Souder of Indiana and Todd Tiahrt of Kansas each cosponsored three of the four versions of the bills.

Do the different sets of cosponsors for the four bills represent some sort of competing factions within the House Republican caucus? It’s hard to make that case. If competing factions did exist, then we wouldn’t expect the same names to appear over and over as cosponsors for the different bills. But the same names do tend to appear in more than one place. 32 of the 37 cosponsors of Michele Bachmann’s copy of the bill also cosponsored Steve King’s bill; Bachmann and King even cosponsored one another’s copies. Each of the 3 cosponsors of Jerry Moran’s bill and of the 4 cosponsors of Connie Mack’s bill also cosponsored Bachmann’s or King’s bill.

The multiple identical copies of a health care repeal bill don’t reflect a turf war between legislative factions, but they do reflect a variation in the strength of leadership exhibited by the four legislators. All four have used publicity to declare themselves to be The One who introduced health care repeal legislation to Congress.

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