Vulnerable Republicans bury Obamacare repeal talk

By | October 17, 2018

Shortly after the House narrowly passed a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare in the spring of 2017, a majority of the House Republican Conference headed to the White House for a major celebration with President Trump.

But now with their majority in jeopardy, several vulnerable House Republicans are softening their rhetoric surrounding Obamacare and avoiding reference to the vote that led to that celebration. Polling indicates that healthcare is a top issue for voters and that the effort to repeal Obamacare was unpopular.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a member of House leadership who attended the May 2017 Rose Garden ceremony and is in a tough re-election race, does not even list Obamacare on her campaign website.

The site does, however, tout her votes to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program and her support for several other healthcare bills.

In an op-ed last month in the Spokesman-Review, McMorris Rodgers said that “Obamacare isn’t working, and the system we had before wasn’t working.”

“I’m for ensuring a competitive health insurance marketplace where there are better choices that are tailored to the needs of families and individuals,” said McMorris Rodgers, who is in a tough re-election race that the Cook Political Report lists as “lean Republican.”

Cook Political Report lists 23 House seats as tossups that aren’t open seats, and all of them feature a GOP incumbent.

Only two of the 23 Republicans voted against the American Health Care Act.

Of the 21 Republicans that did vote for the repeal bill, only eight mention Obamacare on their campaign websites. A handful of House lawmaker campaign sites do not even mention healthcare at all.

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It’s a much different situation from that of previous years, when President Barack Obama was in office and Republicans enjoyed success running hard against Obamacare.

Some Republicans have downplayed their role in getting the Obamacare replacement measure through the House.

Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., for instance, helped at a critical juncture by crafting a critical amendment to the House’s Obamacare repeal bill called the American Health Care Act.

MacArthur’s amendment let states waive key insurance regulations that ensured people with pre-existing conditions got access to affordable health insurance. With a waiver, a state could have ignored Obamacare requirements that prevent insurance companies from charging people with pre-existing conditions higher prices, or it could have allowed insurers to forgo covering essential health benefits.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the House bill would have led to sicker people paying more money if they lived in a state that got a waiver.

MacArthur’s campaign website does not make any mention of the amendment, which was key to getting members of the conservative Freedom Caucus on board with the House bill that passed in May.

MacArthur opposed “his own party’s efforts at a speedy Obamacare repeal,” the campaign website said. MacArthur did not elaborate what he was referring to.

MacArthur did vote in favor of the final Obamacare repeal bill that passed in May, a fact not listed on his website.

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who is running to succeed retiring Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, tried to finesse her stance on Obamacare during a debate Monday, calling for a replacement of the law while also acknowledging its benefits.

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“We cannot go back to where we were before Obamacare, where people were one diagnosis away from going bankrupt because they could not get access to healthcare,” said McSally in the debate with her Democratic opponent, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.

But McSally also said that Obamacare was the “wrong approach” to covering sick people.

McSally voted for Obamacare repeal several times, and has been under fire from Sinema, who has said that McSally voted to end pre-existing condition protections. McSally and other Republicans deny the charge, but the House bill they voted for would have allowed states to waive such protections.

But not all Republicans are shying away from embracing full repeal.

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, who voted for the House repeal bill, said that he supports repealing the “massive healthcare power-grab by the federal government.”