HEALTH BILL

GOP fears po­lit­i­cal fall­out af­ter health bill fail­ure

The Sentinel-Record - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE PEO­PLES AND THOMAS BEAU­MONT

NEW YORK — Weary Repub­li­cans in Wash­ing­ton may be ready to move on from health care, but con­ser­va­tives across the United States are warn­ing the GOP-led Congress not to aban­don its pledge to re­peal the Obama-era health law — or risk a po­lit­i­cal night­mare in next year’s elec­tions.

The Se­nate’s fail­ure this past week to pass re­peal leg­is­la­tion has out­raged the Repub­li­can base and trig­gered a new wave of fear. The stunning col­lapse has ex­posed a party so par­a­lyzed by ide­o­log­i­cal divi­sion that it could not de­liver on its top cam­paign pledge.

Af­ter de­vot­ing months to the de­bate and seven years to promis­ing to kill the Af­ford­able Care Act, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., sim­ply said: “It’s time to move on.”

But that’s sim­ply not an op­tion for a con­ser­va­tive base en­er­gized by its op­po­si­tion to the health law. Lo­cal party lead­ers, ac­tivists and po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives are pre­dict­ing pay­back for Repub­li­cans law­mak­ers if they don’t re­vive the fight.

“This is an epic fail for Repub­li­cans,” said Tim Phillips, pres­i­dent of Amer­i­cans For Pros­per­ity, the po­lit­i­cal arm of the con­ser­va­tive Koch Brothers’ net­work. “Their fail­ure to keep their prom­ise will hurt them. It will.”

To the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union, the three Repub­li­can sen­a­tors who blocked the stripped-down re­peal bill that failed in the wee hours Fri­day are “sell­outs.” A Trump-sanc­tioned su­per po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee did not rule out run­ning ads against un­co­op­er­a­tive Repub­li­cans, which it did re­cently against Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

There are lim­ited op­tions for di­rectly pun­ish­ing the rene­gade sen­a­tors — John McCain of Ari­zona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Su­san Collins of Maine. None of the three is up for re-elec­tion next fall. McCain, whose dra­matic “no” vote killed the bill, is serv­ing his last term in of­fice, has brain can­cer and is hardly moved by elec­toral threats.

Still, broad dis­il­lu­sion­ment among con­ser­va­tive vot­ers could have an im­pact be­yond just a few sen­a­tors. Pri­mary elec­tion chal­lenges or a low turnout could mean trou­ble for all Repub­li­cans. Democrats need to flip 24 seats to take con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, a shift that would dra­mat­i­cally re-shape the last two years of Trump’s first term.

“If you look at com­pet­i­tive dis­tricts, swing dis­tricts, or dis­tricts where Repub­li­cans could face pri­mary chal­lenges, this is some­thing that will be a po­tent elec­toral is­sue,” Repub­li­can poll­ster Chris Wil­son said of his party’s health care fail­ure. “I don’t think this is some­thing vot­ers are go­ing to for­get.”

One such chal­lenger has emerged. Con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist Shak Hill, a for­mer Air Force pi­lot, plans to run against sec­ond-term GOP Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock in a com­pet­i­tive north­ern Vir­ginia dis­trict.

Hill told The As­so­ci­ated Press that Com­stock, who voted against a GOP House health care re­peal bill in May, “has failed the moral test of her time in Congress.”

The lead­ers of other groups, such as Women Vote Trump, have be­gun to court pri­mary chal­lengers to pun­ish those mem­bers of Congress deemed in­suf­fi­ciently com­mit­ted to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s agenda.

“I ex­pect that we will get in­volved in pri­maries,” said the group’s co-founder, Amy Kre­mer. “You can­not con­tinue to elect the same peo­ple over and over again and ex­pect dif­fer­ent re­sults.”

On Capi­tol Hill, some Repub­li­cans in­sist their health care over­haul could be saved in the short term. Yet party lead­ers — backed by out­side groups — are sig­nal­ing that they would prob­a­bly move on to taxes. Repub­li­cans hoped the is­sue would bring some party unity, even as re­al­ists in Wash­ing­ton view the a tax over­haul — some­thing that hasn’t hap­pened in more than 30 years — as one of the most com­plex leg­isla­tive projects pos­si­ble.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has be­come en­gulfed in in­ter­nal drama over per­son­nel and per­son­al­i­ties. Trump on Fri­day ousted his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and re­plac­ing him with Home Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John Kelly. The pres­i­dent did not ap­pear to share con­ser­va­tives’ out­rage about the Se­nate’s vote, but re­peated his prom­ises to re­make the health sys­tem.

“You can’t have every­thing,” Trump said, adding: “We’ll get it done. We’re go­ing to get it.”

Around the coun­try, Repub­li­can vot­ers con­tinue to sup­port ef­forts to re­peal for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health law, even if there is lit­tle agree­ment on an al­ter­na­tive.

A CNN poll re­leased last week found that 83 per­cent of Repub­li­cans fa­vor some form of re­peal, while only 11 per­cent of Repub­li­cans want the party to aban­don the re­peal ef­fort. Among all adults, 52 per­cent of vot­ers fa­vor some sort of re­peal, with 34 per­cent fa­vored re­peal only if re­place­ment could be en­acted at the same time.

“The po­lit­i­cal pres­sure on some­thing like this is real,” said GOP strate­gist Mike Shields. “I don’t think this is over.”

Like oth­ers Repub­li­can op­er­a­tives, Shields said the party’s abil­ity to en­act the rest of Trump’s agenda — taxes, in­fra­struc­ture and the bor­der wall — could help “mit­i­gate how up­set peo­ple will be” about health care.

“If this is part of a gen­eral trend,” he said of the GOP’s gov­ern­ing strug­gles, “I think that can be pretty dis­as­trous for 2018.”

Repub­li­cans will be held re­spon­si­ble for any neg­a­tive eco­nomic fall­out from the cur­rent health sys­tem’s fail­ure, said Paul Shu­maker, a North Carolina Repub­li­can poll­ster and se­nior ad­viser to Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

As early as Oc­to­ber, vot­ers are likely to see in­creased costs as in­sur­ance com­pa­nies no­tify peo­ple about their new rates. By next Oc­to­ber, it will be too late to un­link Repub­li­cans from the prob­lem, Shu­maker said.

For now at least, many Trump sup­port­ers blame the Repub­li­can Party’s prob­lems on its lead­ers in Congress.

“They cer­tainly didn’t have their house in or­der,” said Larry Wood of Way­nes­boro, Vir­ginia, who voted for Trump only af­ter sup­port­ing Ohio Gov. John Ka­sich in the 2016 GOP pri­mary. The 69-year-old re­tired home­builder says the fail­ure falls at the feet of Congress.

Trump seems con­tent to let the cur­rent sys­tem col­lapse.

“As I said from the be­gin­ning, let Oba­maCare im­plode, then deal. Watch!” he said in a tweet.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

MCCON­NELL: Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, of Ky., cen­ter, with Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Whip John Cornyn of Texas, right, and Sen. John Bar­rasso, R-Wyo., talks to re­porters Tues­day on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton. Weary Repub­li­cans in Wash­ing­ton may be ready to move on, but con­ser­va­tives across the coun­try are warn­ing that the GOP-led Congress can­not aban­don its pledge to re­peal “Oba­macare” with­out trig­ger­ing a po­lit­i­cal night­mare in next year’s midterm elec­tions.

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