Democrats sound alarm over threats to ObamaCare as midterms loom

·6 min read

Democrats across the country are warning of looming threats to the Affordable Care Act ahead of this year's midterms, returning to an issue that drove them to success in 2018.

The party has received criticism for its messaging going into the midterms, while Republicans have zeroed in on kitchen table issues like rising inflation and crime.

But as Democrats on Wednesday celebrate the 12-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as ObamaCare, the party is warning voters that a Republican majority in Congress, together with a 2024 GOP presidential win, could lead to a repeal of the landmark health care law.

"Most people don't like the conversation that starts with what we're going to take away from you," said former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who played a key role in implementing the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration.

Democrats are in the midst of a public relations campaign to celebrate the anniversary of the plan. On Wednesday, various Democratic state parties, including those in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and North Carolina, will hold press calls to commemorate the day, while in Wisconsin, state Democrats will stage a rally outside of incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson's (R-Wis.) state office.

Democrats have pointed to recent comments from Johnson, who is facing a competitive reelection bid in November, in which he said he would like to see the Affordable Care Act repealed if Republicans win back control of the White House and Congress in 2024.

"We're just going to end his agenda so he can stop destroying America," Johnson told the Breitbart News Daily Podcast earlier this month.

"If we're for example, if we were going to repeal and replace Obamacare - I still think we need to fix our health-care system - we need to have the plan ahead of time so that once we get in office, we can implement it immediately, not knock around like we did last time and fail."

Johnson later issued a statement saying he wasn't suggesting repealing and replacing the health care law should be a priority but was rather using Republicans' failure to do so as an example of how the GOP should be prepared to deliver what they run on.

But Democrats have taken Johnson's initial comments and run with them, framing them as a threat against the health care law.

On Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee released a four-figure digital ad blasting Johnson's initial comments, which is set to air in Wisconsin, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

"To hear from Ron Johnson that he thinks it's time to move as fast as possible to shred the Affordable Care Act feels like a personal threat to families across the state," said Ben Wickler, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

"We're working to make sure that every Wisconsinite knows that if he has the power to do it, Ron Johnson is going to take away the health care protections that they rely on," he added.

Wickler cited Wisconsin's 2018 Senate race in which incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) defeated Republican challenger Leah Vukmir by roughly nine points. Health care played a major role in the debate.

"In a year when so many races came down to one percentage point, she lost by double digits to Tammy Baldwin because she was on the wrong side of an issue that's so personal for so many people in our state," he said.

Democrats have also framed their messaging around the impact repealing the Affordable Care Act would have on the cost of health care, arguing that it would send prices skyrocketing.

"While working families are already feeling the squeeze from rising costs, Republicans are freely admitting they plan to raise health care costs and rip coverage away from nearly 1 million Ohioans," said Michael Beyer, a spokesperson for the Ohio Democratic Party. "The out-of-touch millionaires running for U.S. Senate owe Ohioans an answer for why they want to end protections for Ohioans with pre-existing conditions, close rural hospitals, and raise prescription drug costs in order to cut taxes for their wealthy and well-connected friends."

The party is also using the issue in state-level contests to hit Republicans over the expansion of the Affordable Care Act.

"We are making sure that they know that the reason the Affordable Care Act has not been expanded in North Carolina is due to a Republican legislature," said Bobbie Richardson, chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party.

But Republicans argue that the Affordable Care Act is not a major topic of conversation in 2022, given inflation, rising gas prices and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. One Wisconsin-based Republican told The Hill the attacks against Johnson, for example, were likely to fall flat.

"If this attack is meant to wear down Johnson's base or animate Democrats, even more, it's hard to see how that's going to happen, especially when there are so many other pressing issues that are contemporary that are on people's plates today," said GOP strategist Brandon Scholz.

"It's just the first of these kinds of political attacks," he continued. "Somebody's just saying, 'let's do ACA this week,' and boom out it comes."

The issue of health care, in particular the Affordable Care Act, has fired up Republicans as well as Democrats in the past. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) faced backlash from members of his own party after the presidential election in 2012 when he said it was "pretty clear" that Obama was reelected because "Obamacare" is the law of the land.

However, Republicans continued to try to repeal the health care law.

"I think the opposition was very successful in misbranding the Affordable Care Act as the government wanting to take over your health care, wanting to take away your doctor, wanting to take away your insurance coverage, which was not accurate," Sebelius said.

"Clearly we, the promoters of the Affordable Care Act, were kind of on the losing side of the conversation until the act went fully into effect in 2014," she continued.

The health care law has generally remained popular with the American public, but views on it are still divided along party lines. A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll released in October showed 58 percent of respondents saying they viewed the law favorably, while 41 percent said they viewed it unfavorably. Among Democrats, 85 percent said they viewed it favorably while only nine percent said they viewed it unfavorably. However, among Republicans, 27 percent said they viewed it favorably, while 72 percent said they viewed it unfavorably.

Sebelius, the former HHS secretary, underlined what she said were positive outcomes of the Affordable Care Plan, including the millions of Americans who have health insurance, the funding that supports health care workers and systems, lower-priced drugs and prevention benefits.

"All of that would be gone," she said. "I do find that [to be] a very compelling argument to distinguish what Republicans believe and what Democrats believe.