The Trump administration handed Democrats a political gift by arguing in court that the Affordable Care Act’s most popular provisions are unconstitutional, just five months before a midterm election in which health care ranks as voters’ top issue.
“Repealing Obamacare” has been a rallying cry for Republican candidates for the past eight years. But some GOP lawmakers and political operatives sounded warnings on Friday about the impact of the Justice Department’s decision to side with Texas and other states in part of a lawsuit alleging that because Congress nullified the ACA’s individual mandate penalty, the rest of the law is invalid.
That includes the 2010 law’s rules protecting people with preexisting conditions and health insurance subsidies, which are life-and-death issues for many Americans with low to moderate incomes.
“You’ve got very sympathetic populations that are affected by those conditions so to somehow adversely affect them is not a politically wise move,” said Rep. Tom Reed, a New York Republican, signaling opposition to the administration’s decision.
Health care ranked as the top issue for voters in a a national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday, and among those for whom it was the most important factor in their vote, a striking 67% prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress. A CBS News poll of 64 competitive House districts also found that health care is the top issue for voters, ahead of jobs and wages as well as immigration.
Many Democrats said health care is the GOP’s greatest political vulnerability in the November congressional elections and by siding with Texas in the court case Thursday night, President Donald Trump’s Justice Department poured gasoline on already burning fire.
“With 130 million people who have a preexisting condition, there are a lot of people in swing districts waking up to the news today that Republicans are suing to try to let insurance companies discriminate against people with preexisting conditions,” said Jesse Ferguson, former deputy director of the House Democrats’ campaign arm.
Dozens of Democratic candidates challenging incumbent House Republicans have already made Obamacare, and the GOP’s efforts to repeal it, a central part of their campaigns.
Among them is Andy Kim, a former Obama administration national security aide who is running to unseat New Jersey Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur, sponsor of an amendment to the GOP’s 2017 ACA change law that would have allowed states to seek waivers to charge higher premiums to people with preexisting conditions.
MacArthur’s district is a target for Democrats attempting to flip at least 23 House seats the party needs to take control of the chamber after the November election.
“I’m running for Congress because last year, during the lead up to my son’s birth, our doctor told my wife and I that our son may not survive or have a serious health condition for the rest of his life,” Kim said Friday. “No family should have to go through that and worrying how to pay for it all.”
Keeping Their Distance
Republican Leonard Lance of New Jersey said the Justice Department should back off its effort, and said that if courts did rule against preexisting protections then Congress should act. Lance, who faces a tough reelection race, distanced himself from his party’s health care legislation and the tax law that repealed the individual mandate.
“I didn’t vote for the health care bill,” he said. “I didn’t vote for the tax bill.”