Now that it’s on the chopping block, Obamacare has never been more popular. And with Republican attempts at a rapid repeal sputtering, Democrats are hoping to exploit a legislative lull.
Ahead of a congressional recess next week, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are asking their members to host rallies, visit hospitals and talk to enrollees in their districts over the next week in a bid to keep former president Barack Obama’s prized domestic achievement alive.
The call for action, along with a grassroots movement that is staging rowdy protests at Republican town halls nationally, is complicating Republican efforts to move swiftly on their campaign promise to dismantle the 2010 law.
Conservative groups who wanted a repeal bill on Trump’s desk in January say Republicans have more to worry about from their own base than from voters who likely didn’t support them in the first place. But they worry that the political pressure could further sap momentum.
The opposition, for the first time, really, is out there defending Obamacare. . . . The delay has allowed them to get organized, and that is a problem. Dan Holler, vice president of the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action
“The opposition, for the first time, really, is out there defending Obamacare,” said Dan Holler, vice president of the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action. “They’re here now, in full court coverage, pushing on Republican members of Congress. The delay has allowed them to get organized, and that is a problem.”
Nervous Republicans, he said, should be aware “it’s bad politics to fail on a campaign promise of such magnitude.”
Advocates for the Affordable Care Act and even some Democrats acknowledge that if they had consistently embraced the 2010 law, they might not be in emergency mode now. Nervous Democrats kept their distance from the law in mid-term elections since its passage in 2009.
“They didn’t always stand by it, and I don’t know that they did as much as they could have,” said Emily Tisch Sussman, campaign director for the Center for American Progress, one of the liberal groups that backs the act and has launched its own website, ACAWorks.org, to collect testimonials from people who use the health care law.
The law’s complexities also meant “it was harder politically to ask people to have a little faith and hold on when people didn’t necessarily see many of the benefits on Day One,” Sussman said.
But its imminent death has served to focus support, said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, contending that “nothing concentrates the mind like a hanging.
Nothing concentrates the mind like a hanging. Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, on why Obamacare defenders are stepping up now
“As people look at this program being totally repealed with nothing being put in its place they’re understandably a little more focused and a little more protective of the program. People have more experience with it. Before they were looking at it largely through a prism of a distorted advertising campaign. Now they’ve lived with it and found like anything else, it has some pluses and some minuses, but the pluses far outweigh the minuses.”
Florida Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, says she’s held events “constantly” and plans to hold an event Saturday to boost social media activism. She and a number of Democrats also plan to bring Obamacare enrollees as their guests to President Donald Trump’s first address before Congress on Feb. 28.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve seen,” Castor said. “Phones are ringing off the hook. The Republicans have no plan and that’s created a lot of fear back home.”
Though the Affordable Care Act’s popularity barely breaks 50 percent, at least three polls in the past month have found it more popular than it’s ever been. A Fox News poll found that 50 percent of voters feel favorably, compared to 41 percent who felt favorably about the law the last time the network polled on it, in the summer of 2015.
Similarly, 45 percent of respondents believed the health care law was a good idea in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, the highest percentage since the question was first asked in April 2009.
Antipathy to Donald Trump’s election also plays a considerable role for many Americans who otherwise may have been neutral on the health care law, Mellman said.
“A lot of people hear that Trump and the Republicans are leading this drumbeat to get rid of it and that makes a lot of anti-Trump people say, ‘Wait a minute, that must not be the right position,’ even if they don’t know the details,” Mellman said.
Indeed, congressional Republicans have already heard an earful from groups loudly voicing opposition to Trump – and in some cases efforts to repeal Obamacare – at district town halls across the country.
Some have canceled similar events, though Rep. Mark Sanford, R-South Carolina, who Wednesday plans to unveil health care law replacement legislation, said Tuesday he will hold a town hall on Saturday with members of Indivisible, a group opposed to Trump’s agenda.
Sanford and other conservative House members have pressed their colleagues in recent days for a speedy vote on repeal legislation, though some House members and senators want to move with caution, worried about the political risk of repealing health care that has extended coverage to 20 million Americans.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus, though, has called on House and Senate to take up a repeal bill that both chambers passed in 2015, but which was vetoed by Obama.
“Members of Congress are scared all the time, “ said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, of Republican reluctance. “They need to actually just lean in, move forward and do what they told the American people they were going to do.”
He said Democrats are hoping to demoralize the Republican base and depress turnout in 2018.
That will be a tough haul, said Jennifer Duffy of the non-partisan Cook Political Report, noting that turnout in midterm elections tends to benefit Republicans because voters tend to be older, whiter and more conservative.
“All signs now are Democrats are fired up,” Duffy said. “But the problem is they’ve got to stay fired up for 20 months and that gets a little challenging.”