Health care de­feat leaves GOP in crouch, Dems on of­fense

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Alan Fram

WASH­ING­TON » Re­pub­li­cans face a big prob­lem fol­low­ing the col­lapse of their lat­est push to re­peal the Obama health care law: Their own vot­ers are an­gry and don’t trust them.

Right now, they don’t know what to do about it. That’s trou­ble for a party pre­par­ing to de­fend its House and Se­nate ma­jori­ties in 2018 midterm elec­tions that look riskier than most imag­ined months ago.

Pres­i­dent Donald Trump and top con­gres­sional Re­pub­li­cans say they’ll take an­other run next year at dis­man­tling Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law. But they’ve made do­ing just that a core prom­ise in four con­sec­u­tive na­tional elec­tions with nothing to show for it.

“If I’m a voter in wher­ever and some­body says, ‘We’re going to come back to health care,’ would I be skep­ti­cal? Sure,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who’s re­tir­ing rather than seek a third term next year. He added, “When some­thing has been com­mit­ted to and it doesn’t hap­pen and then it doesn’t hap­pen again, I think it’s self-ev­i­dent it isn’t a good thing.”

This year’s fail­ure was espe­cially sting­ing be­cause it was the first time since Obama’s 2010 over­haul law was en­acted that they’ve con­trolled the White House and Congress. The lat­est de­ba­cle came Tues­day, when Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell, R-Ky., averted a guar­an­teed de­feat by not hold­ing a vote on a last-re­sort bill trans­form­ing much of Obama’s law into block grants that states would con­trol.

The set­backs are caus­ing strains among Se­nate Re­pub­li­cans.

“It’s ob­vi­ous we don’t have the kind of lead­er­ship we need to pass this piece of leg­is­la­tion,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told a re­porter Fri­day after an ap­pear­ance in Fitch­burg, Wisconsin. Johnson, who’s clashed with Mc­Connell be­fore, de­clined to say if the leader should step down.

The bro­ken prom­ises are an “epic fail” that “puts less trust in the minds of con­ser­va­tive vot­ers,” said Tim Phillips, pres­i­dent of Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity, the con­ser­va­tive group backed by the ac­tivist broth­ers David and Charles Koch.

The GOP health care im­plo­sion “has poi­soned the at­ti­tude of GOP pri­mary vot­ers to­ward con­gres­sional Re­pub­li­cans in gen­eral,” Steven Law wrote in a memo this week. Law, Mc­Connell’s former chief of staff, heads the Se­nate Lead­er­ship Fund, a po­lit­i­cal group al­lied with the Ken­tucky Repub­li­can.

Law’s memo was re­leased Tues­day, hours be­fore the GOP pri­mary de­feat of Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., by con­ser­va­tive lightning rod Roy Moore. Es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­li­cans in­clud­ing Mc­Connell backed Strange, as did Trump.

Law warned that the ouster of Strange would make him “the first ca­su­alty — and prob­a­bly not the last — of the Oba­macare re­peal fi­asco.”

In an ABC News-Wash­ing­ton Post poll this week, more Re­pub­li­cans dis­ap­proved than ap­proved of the job the con­gres­sional GOP is do­ing by a dis­mal 21 per­cent­age points. That’s the fourth-worst show­ing since 1994.

Just eight Se­nate Re­pub­li­cans face re-elec­tion in 2018, and only two have seemed to face se­ri­ous GOP pri­mary chal­lenges: Sens. Jeff Flake of Ari­zona and Nevada’s Dean Heller.

But fed by Repub­li­can vot­ers’ anti-es­tab­lish­ment mood and dis­il­lu­sion­ment over the party’s health care fail­ures, that number could grow.

Con­ser­va­tive Mis­sis­sippi state leg­is­la­tor Chris McDaniel called Moore’s vic­tory “in­cred­i­bly in­spir­ing” and could chal­lenge GOP Sen. Roger Wicker. Steve Ban­non, the former Trump White House ad­viser, is a bit­ter Mc­Connell critic who might en­cour­age con­ser­va­tives to con­test other GOP in­cum­bents.

Democrats and their in­de­pen­dent al­lies must de­fend 25 Se­nate seats next year, far more than the GOP’s eight, mak­ing a Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity im­prob­a­ble. Democrats would need to gain 24 seats to take over the House, a reach.

But they see this year’s GOP health care bills — which bud­get an­a­lysts said would have stripped cov­er­age from mil­lions of Amer­i­cans — as feed­ing their nar­ra­tive that Re­pub­li­cans are erod­ing peo­ple’s eco­nomic se­cu­rity.

If Re­pub­li­cans re­visit health care next year, it would “reawaken the public gi­ant,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who heads Se­nate Democrats’ cam­paign com­mit­tee. Polls showed public opin­ion fa­vors re­tain­ing Obama’s law.

Hop­ing to right them­selves, Re­pub­li­cans are fo­cus­ing on cut­ting taxes in search of their first sig­nif­i­cant leg­isla­tive win this year. Suc­cess is far from guar­an­teed, but many say a tax vic­tory would smooth the po­lit­i­cal wa­ters.

But some Re­pub­li­cans say at­tack­ing Obama’s law again re­mains manda­tory.

“Is it dam­ag­ing? With­out a doubt,” Rep. Mark Mead­ows, R-N.C., head of the con­ser­va­tive House Free­dom Cau­cus, said of the party’s re­peal fail­ure. “And if we just leave it there, then it’s more prob­lem­atic.”

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