Once fer­vent, crit­ics of health care law mostly low-key now

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - KATE ZERNIKE

Mem­bers of Congress re­turn­ing home for the July 4 re­cess last week were met with ral­lies, sit-ins and In­de­pen­dence Day demon­stra­tors, as ac­tivists on the left in­ten­si­fied their push to de­feat Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tion to re­peal and re­place the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act.

The groups on the right that once fu­eled the party’s fer­vor against for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law have not re-es­tab­lished a pres­ence.

“Not too many are fo­cused on health care cur­rently,” said Levi Rus­sell, a spokesman for Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity, a group founded and funded by the bil­lion­aire in­dus­tri­al­ist Koch broth­ers.

In­stead of health care, he said, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s state chap­ters were hold­ing town­hall-style meet­ings about vet­er­ans’ con­cerns dur­ing re­cess week. Two other ma­jor groups, Free­domWorks and the Tea Party Pa­tri­ots, said they were plan­ning ral­lies in Au­gust and Septem­ber that would push for an over­haul of the tax code; Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity was al­ready run­ning ads to­ward that.

The shift in pri­or­i­ties is re­mark­able. Since sum­mer 2009, when Tea Party ac­tivists an­grily con­fronted Democrats who were draft­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act, the Repub­li­can Party has been driven and de­fined by anger over it. But now, with the Repub­li­can health care leg­is­la­tion hang­ing in the bal­ance, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and con­gres­sional lead­ers are get­ting lit­tle sup­port from what were once the loud­est voices against the law.

The lack of grass-roots en­thu­si­asm will make it even harder for the party’s Se­nate lead­ers to line up votes for their trou­bled bill when they re­turn Mon­day.

Ac­tivists on the right said they felt be­trayed by the Repub­li­cans they helped elect, who pledged that when they had a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent they would re­peal the act “root and branch,” as Sen. Mitch McCon­nell, the ma­jor­ity leader, once de­clared.

“This is not any­where close to that, and I think it has left a num­ber of con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists say­ing, ‘I’m not ad­vo­cat­ing for this,’” said David Bozell, pres­i­dent of ForAmer­ica, an or­ga­ni­za­tion founded in 2010, the year the Af­ford­able Care Act was passed, to help spread con­ser­va­tive ideas on so­cial me­dia.

Th­ese ac­tivists want the sub­si­dies that help peo­ple buy in­surance re­pealed, not just re­duced. They want the Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion elim­i­nated, not slowed.

“You’re not go­ing to get a grass-roots ac­tivist to spend their valu­able time call­ing their se­na­tor be­cause, ‘Well, this is bet­ter than noth­ing,’” Bozell said.

While Repub­li­cans have be­come more luke­warm on their party’s ef­forts, Democrats are more fiercely de­fend­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act, polls show.

“There’s def­i­nitely an en­thu­si­asm gap,” said Liz Hamel, di­rec­tor of pub­lic opinion and sur­vey re­search for Kaiser, a non­par­ti­san re­search group. “It’s not that they’re not in­ter­ested in re­peal,” she said. “They just have other pri­or­i­ties.”

Ad­ver­tis­ing, too, has been one-sided against the Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tion. Groups from Planned Par­ent­hood to AARP have bought tele­vi­sion and ra­dio spots in states with wa­ver­ing Repub­li­cans im­plor­ing them to vote against the plan. Groups on the right were mostly silent; Free­domWorks has run dig­i­tal ads in Ten­nessee alone, show­ing Sen. Bob Corker, who has crit­i­cized his fel­low Repub­li­cans for propos­ing to elim­i­nate the act’s 3.8 per­cent tax on in­vest­ment in­come, cozy­ing up to Obama.

Like Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, some of the groups have found that fix­ing com­plex leg­is­la­tion is far more chal­leng­ing than op­pos­ing it.

“It’s eas­ier to gen­er­ate a crowd when you don’t have to be in on the sausage-mak­ing,” said Adam Bran­don, pres­i­dent of Free­domWorks.

“The Democrats, their strat­egy is out­rage,” he said. “I get that strat­egy. I lived that strat­egy. It’s a uni­fy­ing strat­egy to be out­raged at the other guy. The hard part is when you get in and have to de­liver.”

David Zu­pan helped or­ga­nize Tea Party groups in Ohio against the Af­ford­able Care Act, which he blamed for driv­ing up health care costs and forc­ing him to shut­ter his tech­nol­ogy sup­port busi­ness. Be­fore the law, he said, he paid $910 per month to in­sure him and his wife, with a $750 an­nual de­ductible. When he re­newed his pol­icy last year, he said, the rates had in­creased to $2,845 per month, with a $3,500 de­ductible.

Zu­pan had hoped to con­front Sen. Rob Port­man over the re­cess to de­mand that he and his fel­low Repub­li­cans push for a full re­peal. Port­man has ex­pressed con­cern that the Se­nate bill would roll back Med­i­caid too far, par­tic­u­larly jeop­ar­diz­ing treat­ment for opi­oid ad­dic­tion. But Zu­pan gave up af­ter be­ing un­able to fig­ure out where Port­man would be.

Zu­pan, too, ex­pressed a cer­tain res­ig­na­tion with Repub­li­cans.

“Noth­ing they’re go­ing to do to this bill is go­ing to make it bet­ter,” he said.

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