GOP lawmakers may face voter fury as they return home for Easter break
The White House is twisting the arms of House Republicans to back revisions of the failed Obamacare repeal and replace bill.
But many GOP lawmakers worry about the reception they’ll face when they go home for the two-week recess. They’ll likely encounter constituents angry and worried about losing their health coverage. Healthcare provider groups also may come calling.
The lawmakers also may face fire from conservative voters who want to see a 7-year-old promise to wipe out the Affordable Care Act finally fulfilled.
Pro-ACA activists are organizing people to turn out at town hall events held by representatives and senators around the country, and at so-called “with you or without you” events in districts where lawmakers aren’t scheduling town halls. Some House Republicans being targeted include California congressmen Jeff Denham and Tom McClintock, Kentucky’s Jim Comer, Randy Hultgren in Illinois, and Virginia’s Bob Goodlatte.
“We’ll be showing up at Rep. Goodlatte’s open-door meeting on April 13,” said John Schaldach, of Harrisonburg Indivisible, a liberal-leaning activist group. “He knows he’s out of line with his district on this one.”
“People will be raising their voices during the recess that they want members to move on from repealing the ACA and find bipartisan proposals to keep people covered, lower costs, and protect people with pre-existing conditions,” said Claire McAndrew, director of campaign strategy for Families USA, a pro-ACA advocacy group.
In February, Republicans had many uncomfortable faceoffs with people who told them Obamacare had saved their lives. That’s partly why GOP leaders had hoped to pass ACA repeal-and-replace legislation before the Easter recess, to reduce the chances their members would lose their nerve after getting a blast of face-to-face anger from voters.
House Republicans now worry about more backlash.
Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada told Bloomberg News he doesn’t even know what to tell his constituents or healthcare industry representatives back home because “I don’t know what the latest iteration of the bill is.” He wanted the House to hold hearings with industry feedback on the legislation. No such hearings were held.
Republicans from conservative districts fear the fury of voters who sent them to Washington to roll back the ACA, said Robert Blendon, an expert on healthcare politics at Harvard.
“The Republican bill isn’t very popular,” he said. “But the biggest problem they’ll have is they promised to do something and did nothing.”
That’s why the White House and some House Republicans were still talking last week about returning early from recess to vote on an amended American Health Care Act.
The revisions reportedly would let HHS grant waivers to states to relax the ACA’s insurance rules—such as minimum essential benefits and community rating. The idea is to let insurers sell cheaper, stripped-down health plans that would attract healthier con- sumers. The amended bill also would provide an extra $15 billion over 10 years to establish high-risk pools or pay insurers for the costs of their sickest and most expensive enrollees.
House ultraconservatives and relative moderates remain divided over the bill’s provisions. Analysts say the legislation would spike the number of uninsured Americans and sharply increase costs for many consumers, particularly those who are older and have chronic conditions.
The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, conducted last week, illustrates the whipsaw of public opinion congressional Republicans face. It found that 64% of the public overall said it was a good thing Congress did not pass the AHCA. But 54% of Republicans saw the failure as a bad thing. And 58% of Republicans said the AHCA didn’t pass mainly because it didn’t go far enough to end Obamacare.
On the other hand, three-fourths of the public, including 51% of Republicans, said the Trump administration should try to make Obamacare work.
Blendon said Republicans face different problems with different groups of voters over healthcare. When the 2018 midterm elections get closer, they could encounter highly energized Democrats and independents who vote against them based on their unpopular healthcare bill.
But as they ponder their visits home, they’re most worried about base voters who dislike Obamacare, Blendon stressed. “They’re saying, ‘I can’t go home and say I passed nothing.’ ”
“The biggest problem they’ll have is they promised to do something and did nothing. That’s very hard to explain.” ROBERT BLENDON Healthcare policy expert Harvard University