A protester is forcibly removed from the room by U.S. Capitol Police as the Senate Committee on Finance was to conduct the “Hearing to Consider the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson Proposal” on the repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in September 2017.(Shutterstock)
From now until Election Day, The Brian Lehrer Show is hosting a series called “30 Issues in 30 Days.” The idea is to dive deep on one issue a day to give voters a sense of what candidates are saying about the policies that affect their lives. This week the series is looking at how Democrats would try to change policy if they won Congress. Today’s issue: Health Care.
You know how your mom used to tell you that the “uncool” kids in middle school become the “cool kids” in high school, and just to hold tight? Well, shortly after Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, Senator Chuck Schumer kinda said the same thing about Obamacare: “It’s going to become more and more popular,” he promised, and urged Democrats to campaign on the issue. That fall, Democrats went on to lose over 60 seats in the House and six in the Senate. Then again in 2014, Democrats campaigned on health care, and again they lost seats—13 in the House and nine in the Senate.
It looks like High School is finally here and, and after a long Summer (growth spurt, guitar lessons, suspicious fires destroying most of the neighborhood), Obamacare is looking good, and Democrats are hoping to break their loser streak, I mean losing streak.
With the ACA now popular with over half of Americans, Democrats are once again making it their centerpiece campaign issue. According to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project, the topic came up in more than half of the ads put out by Democratic candidates running at a federal level. That’s more than twice the airtime of Democrats’ second most mentioned policy issue–taxes.
Why does this matter in November?
Mitch McConnell said this week that the Republicans’ inability to repeal the Affordable Care Act was the major “disappointment” of the last two years, and, moving forward, he’ll try to finish the job. Without Senator John McCain—who helped torpedo the last repeal effort—you can bet your Health Savings Account that if the Republicans keep both chambers of Congress they will succeed.
At the same time, Republican candidates seem to realize that disparaging Obamacare (like they’ve done to win past elections) when it’s popular won’t make them popular, and everyone wants to be popular! To get out of that particularly tricky bind, some are campaigning on saving pre-existing conditions, one of the most loved provisions of Obamacare. Health policy analysts say those promises aren’t straightforward or completely honest. After all, according to Vox “twenty Republican-led states are suing to overturn the entire health care law, and the Trump administration is joining them to argue that preexisting conditions rules specifically should be struck down.”
What can Democrats do?
Even if Democrats win both the House and the Senate, with Trump’s veto power the Democrats won’t be able to pass much legislation. “Obviously with Trump and the drug companies dominating policy, at this moment we are not going to have a national Medicare for All program,” Senator Bernie Sanders told Brian Lehrer on Thursday.
In fact, President Trump has gone on the offensive against Medicare for All specifically, claiming without evidence that any expansion of Medicare will come at the expense of seniors. “We counted 19 lies in the President’s piece alone,” said Sanders, who claims seniors would actually be better off with Medicare for All because they would receive expanded coverage on things like dental and eye care.
Even so, there are still things that Democrats can do to prevent further ACA sabotage. “Democrats may not be able to enact legislation,” Heather Howard, Lecturer in Public Affairs at Princeton University, told WNYC. “But they could force votes on issues like pre-existing condition protections, and could also conduct oversight hearings into how the ACA is being implemented.”
For more, check out Brian Lehrer’s conversation with Bernie Sanders: