Thursday, January 18, 2018
Opinion

Column: Republicans' delicate dance on Obamacare

Here's something to keep an eye out for: Republican candidates in 2014 who, when discussing health care, sound an awful lot like the most ardent supporters of the Affordable Care Act.

The bluster continues today from GOP operatives who, as always, profess absolute certainty that Obamacare is nothing but a sure winner for them. Republicans are circulating a GOP poll showing that disapproval of Obamacare is running high among seniors, a key midterm voting bloc, insisting it could play a big role this fall.

Perhaps that will prove true. But it's also worth watching what Republican candidates and incumbents actually say and do on health care, for a clue to the nuances of how the politics of the issue are really playing.

The GOP Senate candidate in Michigan, Terri Lynn Land, is in a spot because she favors repeal but is well aware the Medicaid expansion is set to kick in there this spring for over 400,000 people. In a statement late last week, Land's campaign pretty much abandoned repeal and embraced the expansion. But note the specific language: "Terri believes that health care should be affordable and accessible to all Americans and that we as a society have a moral obligation to help those who are not as fortunate."

Good idea! That is awfully similar to what her Dem opponent, Rep. Gary Peters, says: "It's a core belief of mine that everybody, no matter who you are, should have access to affordable health care."

Meanwhile, the expected GOP Senate candidate in North Carolina, Thom Tillis, is getting skewered by the local press over his equivocating health care stance. He wants to replace Obamacare with something — but he can't embrace the alternative offered by home state Sen. Richard Burr without getting hit from the right.

But when speaking generally about the issue, he says that of course he's not "against having some sort of safety net for pre-existing conditions." He adds that Republicans "agree that there are serious health care issues among the American people that we need to solve." But just not with Obamacare. Something else.

Mitch McConnell continues to call for total repeal, but he ran an ad touting his efforts to bring health care to sick people who desperately needed it, even as he won't answer directly when asked about all the Kentuckians benefitting from the law. And House Republicans continue to say they may offer a replacement — an acknowledgment that they have to say that — even as their resolve to actually do so is slowly withering away.

To be clear, it's possible the 2014 fundamentals will be so bad that Republicans will regain the Senate while sticking to a "repeal and replace" message that remains vague on "replace."

But it's also possible we're now seeing the beginnings of how Obamacare fades as an issue. Republicans abandon repeal and start rhetorically accommodating parts of the law and/or its overall moral goals, without offering their own solutions, and it slowly bleeds into something of a wash (though it will probably remain a net negative for red state Dems), even as other things (the candidates, the economy, local concerns) take over as more important factors.

© 2014 Washington Post

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