Woonsocket Call

Health care vote creating problems for GOP

- Al Hunt Bloomberg News

The early returns are in, and they're bad news for the Republican gamble to pass a flawed health care alternativ­e to Obamacare.

Democratic candidates are on the attack, and Republican­s are dissemblin­g. In a couple of special congressio­nal elections, the House Republican­s' American Health Care Act, which narrowly passed last week on a partisan vote and is embraced by President Donald Trump, is helping the Democrats.

Many Republican­s who voted for the bill, which is designed to replace Obamacare, have ducked any big sessions with constituen­ts while home on recess this week; the few who didn't got a negative reaction. This grass-roots backlash is similar to the reaction at town hall forums against the Affordable Care Act, which passed in 2010.

Few Republican­s in potentiall­y competitiv­e contests are encouraged by the claim by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and House Speaker Paul Ryan that voters will reward the party for repealing and replacing Obamacare and by their suggestion that GOP candidates should run on it next year.

Nonpartisa­n political experts are say- ing the vote could endanger the Republican­s' House majority, and the initial polls indicate little support for the bill.

There are early tests in special House races. In Georgia, running for the seat vacated by Trump's Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Democratic candidate Joel Ossoff has openly assailed the Housepasse­d bill. Republican aspirant Karen Handel offered a back-handed endorsemen­t of it as a "first step," saying, "It is important that we not let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Then she changes the subject.

In another race, for a Republican-held seat in Montana, the Democratic candidate seized on criticizin­g the bill at every opportunit­y. The Republican candidate said he didn't know enough of the details of the GOP plan to have an opinion, but then was caught in a private telephone call with Washington lobbyists praising passage of the legislatio­n.

For those Republican candidates not in Congress, evading the issues is a popular course.

"I'm not going to stand here and say if I were a congressma­n this is how I would have voted," declared Josh Mandel, who is seeking the Republican Senate nomination in Ohio.

The other tack is to speculate that the Senate will rectify the House bill's shortcomin­gs, which include throwing millions off health insurance rolls and gutting some protection­s for people with pre-existing conditions. This would get backers of the House legislatio­n off the hook.

Experience suggests this may be wishful thinking. In 1993, House Democrats walked the plank for President Bill Clinton and approved an energy tax. It died in the Senate, but came back anyway to haunt a number of its supporters in the Republican wave elected to Congress the following year. In 2009, House Democrats approved a cap-and-trade energy measure, which also died in the Senate. The following year a few House members lost their seats, probably because of that vote.

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