The Republican Party appears to be shying away from efforts to repeal Obamacare, a possible response to a shifting electoral landscape driven by changes in public opinion.
Undoing Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, motivated Republicans for roughly the first seven years after its passage in 2010. Its passage helped spawn the Tea Party movement and deliver the GOP the House of Representatives in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. From 2011 to 2017, congressional Republicans made seven attempts to repeal the entire law, all of which were either vetoed by former President Barack Obama or failed in the Senate.
But most major Republican leaders and organizations said nothing after the Supreme Court issued its third major ruling upholding Obamacare, California v. Texas, in June. In a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court said that the state of Texas did not have standing to challenge the law.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican National Committee, for example, were silent on the ruling. Only House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a response to the ruling, saying that it “does not change the fact that Obamacare failed to meet its promises and is hurting hard-working American families.”
That was in stark contrast to 2012, when the Supreme Court issued its ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius, the case challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare’s individual mandate, its requirement that people buy insurance or pay a fine. In a 5-4 ruling, the court upheld the individual mandate.
After that ruling, McConnell responded that Republicans wouldn’t let up on repealing the “terrible law,” while then-RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said repealing Obamacare would require electing “a new president.”
McCarthy’s response was also notable for what it did not contain: a call for repealing the law.
McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether Republicans would make another attempt to repeal Obamacare should they win control of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections. Neither did McConnell’s office, the RNC, the National Republican Senate Committee, nor the National Republican Congressional Committee.
A spokesperson for Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan who was chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee during the attempts to repeal Obamacare, did respond but only to say that he was uncertain if the Republicans would push to repeal Obamacare should they win the House in 2022.
“I think Republicans have bigger fish to fry than Obamacare. If the GOP is talking about healthcare in this next election, it will be a huge strategic mistake,” said Republican strategist John Feehery. “They need to keep the focus on stopping the socialists, providing a check on Joe Biden, and countering policies that spur inflation.”
Obamacare has been a liability for Republicans in recent elections.
In 2018, Martha McSally, the GOP nominee for Senate in Arizona, said on the Sean Hannity radio show, “I did vote to repeal and replace Obamacare. I’m getting my ass kicked for it right now.” McSally lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema 50%-48%.
In 2020, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado tried to avoid the issue of Obamacare in his 53%-44% loss to Democrat John Hickenlooper. That was very different from when Gardner won election to the Senate in 2014.
“Gardner probably got elected in large part because of his opposition to the ACA,” said Joe Hanel, communications director of the nonpartisan Colorado Health Institute. “It’s probably not what tipped the election against him in 2020, but his position [on Obamacare] did hurt him.”
The changing electoral landscape likely reflected a shift in public opinion.
Since May 2017, every sampling of the Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll that has examined Obamacare has found that more people view the law favorably than don’t. Prior to that, opinion on the law fluctuated in the KFF poll, with unfavorability often surpassing favorability.
It was May 2017 when congressional Republicans last attempted to repeal Obamacare. At the time, Republicans held both chambers of Congress and the White House. While the measure passed the House, leading former President Donald Trump and House GOP leaders to celebrate at the White House, it fizzled in the Senate.
“That repeal attempt helped people understand what they were getting from the ACA,” said Stan Dorn, director of the National Center for Coverage Innovation at the liberal Families USA, a national, nonpartisan consumer healthcare advocacy organization. “It did so many different things that people didn’t realize what the benefits were until there was an attempt to take them away ... Politically, it’s hard to take things away from people that they are benefiting from.”
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Original Author: David Hogberg