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The Coming Republican Retreat On Obamacare

Memo Pad Politics

The Coming Republican Retreat On Obamacare


If you want to know why Republicans are still hammering at Obamacare, have I got an anecdote for you. It happened in New Orleans during a pre-election focus group of “Walmart Moms” — swing voters who shop once a month at Walmart and have at least one child under 18 at home.

“The health care, I don’t know about anybody else, but it completely screwed me,” said Tonya, a white married mother of two who makes under $50,000 and voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. Dorie, a black divorced mother of two in the same income range who voted for President Obama, offered her take on his rationale. “He’s trying to get a balance between the haves and the have-nots, and the haves are fighting the hell out of it,” she said. “Well this have-not is dyin’,” Tonya shot back, and all ten women erupted in laughter.

The good humor in that room notwithstanding, there are few more dependable ways to fire up conservative voters than to attack the health law universally known by a nickname that incorporates the name of the polarizing president who signed it. But don’t be fooled. The GOP creep toward reality has begun.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s dramatic Medicaid expansion is “not gonna happen,” even if Republicans take control of the Senate. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader aiming for a promotion to majority leader, says Obamacare should be pulled out root and branch — except for Kentucky’s successful Obamacare website. His state’s online marketplace is “fine,” he said in a debate.

Conservative thinkers are starting to say what must not even be hinted at — yet — by conservative politicians. Avik Roy writes in Forbes that full repeal “will cause as many problems as it will solve. A better approach, in my view, is to gradually transition away from Obamacare … ” David Frum, going even further, writes in Foreign Affairs that the center-right “must accept — and even welcome — that in the United States, as in every other developed country, universal health insurance is here to stay.”

The obstacles in the GOP path to repeal include Obama, in office for two more years with veto power to protect his legacy. Beyond that, whether Americans realize it or not, the law is already embedded in their lives. Some 10.3 million people have gained insurance coverage since it took effect, according to an analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine, most of them under the enlarged Medicaid program for low-income people. Millions of others are benefitting from consumer protections against insurance companies, lower prescription drug costs for seniors, and many other aspects of the law.

In the words of Joni Mitchell, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. For all of Obamacare’s enduring unpopularity, that makes repeal a real political risk. A new Rasmussen poll underscores the point. “U.S. voters are now evenly divided over whether to repeal the new national health care law entirely or fix it piece-by-piece,” the poll analysts wrote, and “voters are growing less certain that a Republican-controlled Congress would actually repeal the law.”

For now, with voter turnout the top priority, the airwaves are saturated with ads vilifying Obamacare as a job killer driving up costs (though there is plenty of evidence to argue the opposite). The anti-Obamacare message was the fourth-most-mentioned issue in Senate ads the week of Oct. 6, behind only jobs, health care generally (including the ACA, Medicare and other issues), and government spending, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group. There were 11,790 airings of anti-Obamacare ads that week, 96 percent of them sponsored by Republicans.

Though they aren’t making ads to heap praise on Obamacare, Democratic Senate candidates do know how to defend it in debates and on the trail. Iowa’s Bruce Braley talks about his nephew who, because of the ACA, will never have to worry about becoming uninsurable due to his “pre-existing condition” of having survived liver cancer at age 2. Alison Lundergan Grimes talks about more than a half million Kentuckians who are “for the first time ever” filling prescriptions, seeing doctors and getting checkups. “I will not be the senator who rips that insurance from their hands,” she says.

David Perdue, the Republican Senate candidate in Georgia, wants the 2016 election to be a referendum on Obamacare. That would make it the fourth referendum at the ballot box since the law passed in 2010. The sixth year of a repeal-or-bust GOP. The sixth year of sentiments like the one embodied in this recent tweet from Grover Norquist, anti-tax activist extraordinaire: “Obamacare was always about new taxes in disguise.”

Actually, it was always about expanding health coverage and patient protections to tens of millions, and finding ways to pay for all of it instead of running up the national debt. If Republicans want to have yet another referendum on that, bring it on. They might win the White House, but I’m betting Obamacare — whatever it is called by then — will survive.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

AFP Photo/Robyn Beck

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Jill Lawrence

Award-winning journalist Jill Lawrence is a nationally syndicated columnist and a contributing editor to U.S. News & World Report. She also contributed to The Surge: 2014's Big GOP Win and What It Means for the Next Presidential Race (2015). Lawrence has discussed political and policy developments on television, radio, and many other media outlets. She was an adjunct professorial lecturer at American University in 2014, teaching on the relationship between politics and the media.

Lawrence has covered every presidential campaign since 1988, as well as historic events such as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, the Clinton impeachment, the Florida recount, and the 1993 and 2009 battles over health reform.

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  1. Dominick Vila October 23, 2014

    Republican ideologues are not going to embrace the Affordable Care Act because they suddenly understand the benefit of making affordable and effective preventive medical care available to all Americans, they will do it when people in Red states demand that they do.
    More and more people in red states are questioning the logic of doing without because “Obamacare” is, purportedly, a socialist concept. With over 10 million fellow Americans already enrolled and benefiting from Obamacare, hundreds of thousands of people with pre-existing conditions now able to get the medical care without begging for alms, thousands of people with major health problems that are expensive to treat no longer having to sell everything they own as a result of reaching an artificial insurance company cap, thousands of college students benefiting from being able to remain in their parents insurance policies until age 26, and millions of people who could not afford high insurance premiums getting subsidies that allow them to get medical care, often for the first time, arguing against it and calling for its repeal and a return to the days when only the wealthy and those working for large corporations could get the health care they needed to live a healthy life and, in some cases, have a chance to survive, it is becoming more and more difficult for Republican politicians to continue to fight the ACA based on logic. To make matters worse for them, it takes a lot of nerve to criticize the fact that a waitress raising a couple of kids is getting subsidies that allow her and her children to get the medical care they need, while supporting subsidies to oil companies and wealthy farmers like Michele Bachmann. Maybe they think we are dumb, but if they do, they are in for a rude awakening.

    1. FireBaron October 23, 2014

      Dom, the true irony is many of these Red States that rejected the Medicare assistance portion are the states with the highest percentages of uninsured individuals.
      The current format of the ACA excluded the single-payer option based on Republican demands. Had the Democrats realized there would be NO Republican support to pass the measure, they should have said “To Hell with it”, and included the single payer option. Then everyone would be enjoying the benefit of health insurance.

      1. Dominick Vila October 23, 2014

        Good point. We should have reminded the GOP that we won the 2008 election, that a plurality of Americans favored healthcare system reform, and should have told them to take a hike. Instead, we complied with their demands to reject the Single Payer approach, introduced bullet proof language to ensure public funds are not used to pay for abortions or to provide medical care to illegal immigrants, and got absolutely nothing in return…other than constant attacks, criticisms, and attempts to repeal the ACA.

  2. Jim October 23, 2014

    Here’s the dangerous precedent Harry Reid set with his handling of the Yucca Mountain Project: you don’t have to change the law or break it, you simply need not fund programs. Obama made the hugely hypocritical mistake of saying “you can’t pick and choose which laws you want to follow,” knowing full well his conniving efforts with Senator Reid were costing tax and ratepayers tens and hundreds of millions of dollars as nuclear entities and several states sue the Department of Energy (this on top of the nearly $30 billion spent studying the mountain.)

    Not only is this a dangerous precedent giving Republicans ammunition to pull the same stunt, it’s a slap in the face of health and safety to millions of Americans who reside within evacuation distance of 70 or so nuclear plants now forced to store waste that were not designated, nor designed, to. Talk about putting people at risk…but of course they’re probably thinking “well at least they’ll have Obamacare.”

    Then of course there’s Harry’s suggestion that they find other use for the repository, such as a bomb shelter in case of a nuclear war. Brilliant, Harry. Just brilliant. It’s not safe to store waste – at least in your opinion – but it might be safe to keep radiation out.

    Fortunately Harry’s efforts to stymy the project are falling apart as his self-appointed NRC stood was forced to resign and the Supreme Court issued a writ forcing the Department of Energy to further fund the License Application process – a key portion involving safety being passed just last week leading to Harry’s greatest nightmare: if the Democrats lost control of the senate in a couple of weeks, this project is moving forward.

    As for Obamacare, the Democrats have already drawn the line in the sand and set the precedent. It’ll be interesting to see if the Republicans choose to call them out on it – in the name of health and safety – and give them a taste of their own medicine.

    1. charleo1 October 23, 2014

      What has your post to do with the Republican retreat on the Affordable Care Act? Very well then. The number one problem Harry Reid has with the Yuca Mountain nuclear waste facility, is the number one problem any generic Republican Senator from Nevada would have. The residents of the State of Nevada, overwhelmingly oppose the project. Now, if Conservatives are indeed serious about the issue of State’s Rights. Then, I would suggest they respect them in regards to all States, even those with Democratic leadership, and in respect to all issues. Not just one’s concerning voting regulations, or regulations designed to close abortion clinics, where it may be politically convenient. But also, those involving environmental concerns, like Yuca Mountain, in Nevada, and the XL Pipeline, as well. Where that project is widely opposed in Nebraska. And, since Texas stands to reap the lion’s share of the benefits of the pipeline. It might be a fair trade, that their Representatives volunteer that the State of Texas with it’s thousands of square miles of desert, could step up in the spirit of American Patriotism, and Exceptionalism, to solve the Nation’s growing nuclear waste dilemma. Or, perhaps the
      next Republican Presidential Candidate will boldly go where the last
      two previously feared to tread. And promise to impose the toxic for 10,000 years, radioactive garbage, on the good citizens of Nevada.

      1. Jim October 23, 2014

        A) Harry is a Democrat. B) It’s Federal land. C) It’s the law. Does that last point bring it home for you? Or perhaps you missed the part about health and safety and how its set a precedent for undermining the law without changing it. Either way, it goes to show they aren’t seriously concerned about anyone’s health in Nevada – only their vote. One needs no more proof than the fact they still allow smoking in casinos.

        It also goes to prove any politician will say whatever it takes to curry votes: Romney, when asked about this in Las Vegas, would have been much, much better off saying “You know, this isn’t going to be popular with what I’m about to say, but hopefully you’ll see it makes sense: it’s not a political matter. It’s a scientific endeavor. I’m no more a scientist than Harry Reid is a Marvel Comic Superhero. Let the science dictate whether it’s safe or not.” Instead, he fumbled around and said perhaps states should have the opportunity to bid for a repository. That right there tells you how idiotic and far removed from reality politicians are.

        1. charleo1 October 23, 2014

          Imagine that! Politicians discarding hard science for votes! Ever read the amount of science backing up Global warming, and climate change? How about evolution? Or the medical evidence of the safety, and effectiveness of immunizations in controlling disease? All things the GOP has, and continues to make political hay, debunking, or calling into question. Imagine politicians willing to say anything to curry votes! Imagine Mitt Romney, or any other politician, saying anything like you said he should have said. As 66% of Nevadans oppose the Yuca Mt. project. Other States, such as TX. or NM. with possible alternative sites, takes the not in my backyard stance. Yuca has been a political hot potato since 1987. Why should Harry Reid be expected to fall on his political sword, over Yuca? When tons of politicians have been avoiding it, passing laws, and backing away from the politics of it for the better part of 30 years?

  3. elw October 23, 2014

    I highly doubt that the far Right will ever give up on trying to undo the ACA. They still have not given up trying to undo Medicare and you can see how that worked out for them in the half century of that programs existence. It was too late to undo the ACA once children under 25 were allowed on parents’ policies and even more too late when the very first health insurance was sold on the exchanged. But the fight is far from over; the ACA can use a lot of improvement and is still vulnerable to funding issues. I say go ahead and celebrate its success, but don’t stop looking over your back the Anti-ACAers are as sneaky as a fox and stubborn as mules. And, I say YEA – and thank the author for acknowledging that the ACA is another step on this Nation’s long slow road to universal health care coverage. Lets just hope the rest of the steps needed will not take as long. I say “Health Care For All” is our moral obligation and the right thing to do.

    1. charleo1 October 23, 2014

      The ending of Rooseveltian New Deal policies, along with the Keynesian approach, to broad based economic growth, has become an obsession to a certain segment of the so called, Conservative Right. What these anti-democratic would be, Monetary Monarchs would like to create. Is a World in which wealth is all powerful, and they control enough of it, to impose the remainder of their 15th Century horror story on the bulk of mankind. So, we can only imagine their hatred of a healthcare reform law, that legislates the expansion of access to medical care, to a population they literally seek the power of life, and death.

      1. elw October 23, 2014

        Yes and the sad thing is as the richest most powerful of the industrial nations we stand alone in denying health care access to all of our citizens, have the most expensive health care system in the world and rake amongst the lowest of all nations in quality. Not much to be proud of – is there. Every time I hear one of the “monetary monarchs” claim we have the greatest health care in the world – I laugh.

        1. charleo1 October 24, 2014

          Well, here’s the bottom line for me. I sum it up like
          this. We have the World’s largest, and richest economy. With some of the best facilities, most skilled doctors, and modern research centers, anywhere. But at the end of the day, that all becomes pretty meaningless, if their are millions of jobs that fail to provide secure access to that modern healthcare system. If, in this rich powerful Country, it’s necessary to work two, or three jobs, just to provide a roof over families heads, and food on the table. And the slightest set back, one of the kids develops an ear infection, and can’t be left at daycare, and work is missed, setting in the emergency room 4/5 hours. And the prescription costs 1/2 of the grocery money for the week. And this was all in a booming economy! Then, things really got tough. A Wall Street scam blows up, the economy, and hours are cut. And we have Right Wing politicians in the pocket of the scammers, that not only allowed the blow up, but then, sit in their $1,500 dollar suits, and bitch incessantly about all the money being laid out for unemployment, and food in the worst recession in 80 years. Is it any
          mystery why they don’t want the poor to vote? Why
          they want to have this academic conversation about
          free market Capitalism, vs. Socialism? Instead of
          the discussion of how the present economy is only
          working for a small minority at the top. That people
          are literally dying from lack of the most basic forms
          of medical care. And they talk about government takeovers, and death panels! And refuse to even engage to do anything about the situation, because
          suddenly, they’re concerned about the public debt.
          After a trillion was handed out to Wall Street, and another 2 trillion on a completely stupid war. They
          bitch about about $150 dollars a month in food stamps, to a family of four.

          1. elw October 24, 2014

            I agree, all proof of what the race for endless profits and more money than anyone can spend has done to destroy the American dream for the vast majority of the people who live here. All things that the Right would rather not talk about so instead make up scandals and issues that do not exist. It is unconscionable, horrific and ends up painful for far too many people.

          2. charleo1 October 25, 2014

            You’re absolutely right! The radical Republicans, owned by their corporate benefactors, would rather
            not talk about the number one issue of our time.
            The growing disparity between the super rich, and
            everyone else. They want to characterize the issue
            as class warfare, or the envious liberals, or here’s a
            big one, wealth redistribution. When, it is they who
            have managed to pull off one of the greatest wealth
            redistribution schemes in human history over the past 40 years. And the economy directly reflects this. It was determined, of the first two years of economic gains, following the recovery from the great recession, ’07-’09, 95% of those gains went to the top, .005% of the economy. It is the issue of our time!

          3. elw October 25, 2014

            It is the stuff that comedies are made of. Yesterday I read that Darrel Issa is starting a new inquiry into the handling of the Ebola Crisis. A crisis that includes less than a half a dozen cases and only two that were contacted here and both were care takers of the Ebola patients. The idiot will spend millions of dollars on another made up issue. It makes me sick, it is like yelling fire in a crowded movie theater. I wish the Dems would start yelling a little louder about important issues and stop worrying about getting elected. But of course they are bought and paid for as well.

  4. Lynda Groom October 23, 2014

    The GOP has had decades, just like all politicians, to address the health care problems in the country. They didn’t and they still have yet to come up with anything of value. The ACA is a hybrid of the Heritage Foundation idea from the 90’s. Obama and the Democrats took the idea, borrowed a little from RomneyCare, and accomplish something of value. Perfect? Hardly, but there is nothing in the law that forbids the Congress from working to improve the law and make corrections. Getting off the dime, putting aside agenda driven drivel and working to improve the lives of the nations citizens is suppose to be their job. Yeah right!

  5. Elizabeth October 23, 2014

    Now is the time for all good men to come to the aide of their party

  6. Independent1 October 24, 2014

    I don’t understand why authors of articles such as this don’t do more research into the actual benefits that ACA has already provided America by:

    .BOOSTING THE ECONOMY – In the early part of 2014, when the
    economy was actually stumbling because of the bad winter weather, it was ACA that helped boost the economy by freeing up spending money for millions of Americans who no longer had to pay, or worry about paying, for the healthcare they were getting or may need in the future. Even in the red state of Arizona, experts are predicting that ACA will boost the Arizonian economy by billions over the next few years because Arizona chose to expand Medicaid. And it’s also projected that ACA will be the driver for creating about 15,000 new jobs in Arizona over the next 3 years

    .SAVING LIVES – A projection has been made that ACA may already have saved the lives of as many as 15,000 Americans by having provided them with insurance they never had before, which prompted them to see a doctor who determined that they had a medical condition that may be fatal if it wasn’t treated in time. And in some cases, by forcing hospitals to be more careful of their treatment so fewer patients have gotten illnesses while in the hospital which have been fatal. A projection has also been made that in the red states where Medicaid has not been expanded, that as many as 17,000 Americans may die prematurely because of their decision to not expand Medicaid.

    .SAVING HOSPITALS AND STATES MONEY BY REDUCING READMISSION RATES – ACA has been found to be driving down readmission rates because hospitals are not fully reimbursed for the cost of treating patients that are readmitted to a hospital when it’s evident that they really weren’t well when they were discharged, or they actually picked up an additional illness while in the hospital. And hospitals are finding that reducing the reimbursement rate is saving them, and the state money.

    .SAVING HOSPITALS AND STATES MONEY BY REDUCING THE UNINSURED RATES – ACA is also driving down the uninsured rate which is in some cases greatly reducing the number of people that are coming into emergency rooms who cannot pay for their care, and instead, allowing these people to be examined in a doctor’s office where they should. The combination of reduced readmission rates and decreased uninsured rates, has resulted in not only greatly improving the profitability of many hospitals in states that have embraced ACA, but has also resulted in many states seeing millions and maybe billions in savings because of the reduction in the monies they need to send to hospitals to reimburse them for the healthcare patients have been unable to pay for. In Washington State, Colorado and a couple other states, ACA has dramatically reduced the uninsured rates such that some Safety Net hospitals are seeing their profits increase from about 4.3% to 6.1% and in at least once case, a Safety Net hospital is seeing profits in 2014 for the 1st time in its existence.

    .SAVING AMERICANS MONEY –ACA is saving all Americans money today by having contributed to slowing down the rate of increase of healthcare costs since it was enacted. I remember reading some experts projected that today’s average healthcare premiums would be 25-40% higher than they are had healthcare costs continued to rise at their normal pace. And in addition, millions of Americans are saving money not only because of the healthcare subsidies but also because the increased competitiveness created by ACA has forced more health insurers to provide Americans with lower rates than they would have without ACA


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