Channeling the 2009/10 opposition to the passing of the Affordable Care Act, supporters of the law are mobilizing and making themselves heard at congressional town halls across the country.
On Thursday night, two Republican members of Congress — Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Diane Black of Tennessee — were each confronted with impassioned constituents during simultaneous events. The shouted questions, emotional pleas and raucous protesters of the evening crystalized the GOP’s tough political road ahead as it forges ahead with rolling back Obama’s accomplishments, including the Affordable Care Act.
In suburban Salt Lake City, local police estimated that some 1,000 people packed into a high school auditorium to see Chaffetz as hundreds more waited outside. For 75 minutes, the congressman confronted a crowd that fumed with resentment of Trump and accused Chaffetz of coddling the President.
If the explosion of progressives attending GOP town halls in recent days has in large part been fueled by nationwide opposition to repealing Obamacare, the topic didn’t come up once at the Chaffetz’s event.
Instead, it was a scattershot series of criticisms of Trump — and of Chaffetz for aligning with the President.
While the energy and enthusiasm to be heard is clearly with the Democrats now (and it’s often the case with the opposition party), it should be remembered that every Republican member of Congress ran on a platform of repealing and replacing Obamacare. Many members did so several times and even voted for multiple bills doing just that.
It’s hard to imagine that districts like Black’s (she won by 49% of the vote) and Chaffetz’s (he won by 46%) have suddenly gone hard against a long standing and highly visible part of the GOP’s platform.
The reports of loud booing at the mention of Vice President Mike Pence is a pretty strong indicator that the crowd at the Chaffetz event was not necessarily representative of the partisan make-up of the district. According to Quinnipiac University polling, Pence is viewed favorably by 85% of Republicans.
That doesn’t mean Democrats in those districts don’t deserve representation or the right to make their feelings known to their members of Congress. It simply puts the events an their message in some perspective.
Still, politicians can be swayed by energetic opposition (that’s a feature not a bug of our system) so already skittish Republicans will be made more so when dealing with ObamaCare.
Right now one of the biggest choices they have to make is should they “repeal” before they have a full plan to “replace”? Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) says repeal first.
“If we load down the repeal discussion with what comes next, I think it’s going to make it a lot harder to get either one of them done,” Lee said during a briefing, as reported by Roll Call on Thursday.
“We need to repeal it first before deciding what comes next. I think there is a lot of agreement among Republicans in Congress with regard to the repeal bill. There is a lot less agreement on what comes next,” the lawmaker added.
It’s a tactical choice with advantages and disadvantages.
On the pro side repealing would fulfill a longstanding goal of many Republicans. It would also help focus the minds of Republicans and Democrats alike.
Repealing without replacement can be largely accomplished with just GOP votes in the House and Senate. Replacement will take cooperation from Democrats in the Senate. If the GOP starts negotiating on replacement with Senate Democrats, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will have significant power over the ability of the GOP deliver on the “repeal” part of the plan. In that like all Democrats he’s opposed to repeal, it might be unwise from a Republican perspective to hand him that kind of veto power.
Repealing alone would create a game of chicken. If ObamaCare has an expiration date, there will be tremendous pressure on both sides to then come up with a replacement plan. The Democrats would then have to decide if they’d be able to do more damage to the GOP by withholding any support for a replacement plan or if they would also pay a price for refusing to cooperate on a new scheme. That would likely drive a wedge within in the Democrat caucus between those in safe seats (some with an eye on 2020 presidential politics like Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts) and the now famous ten Democrats up in 2018 from Trump leaning states. Would that game of chicken help or hinder the GOP’s “replace” effort? That’s the calculation all sides are weighing heading into the fight.
On the other side, there are Republicans in the Senate who have said they won’t vote for repeal without a plan ready to go. It’s not just moderates like Susan Collins of Maine but a libertarian leaning member like Rand Paul of Kentucky who thinks this needs to be done as near to simultaneously as possible.
Oh and there’s the small matter of agreeing on a plan within in each house and then between them. And everyone would agree it would be nice if all this focus on strategy, politics, and process also yielded good policy at the end of the day.
Elections, politics, and policy…it’s a never-ending cycle.