President Obama says he will veto any legislation that amends or repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA), his signature legislative achievement, either in whole or in part. But GOP congressional leaders in both House and Senate promised their colleagues that they would use a special parliamentary procedure called “reconciliation” to bypass a certain filibuster by Senate Democrats to put a full repeal bill on the president’s desk anyway.
As Congress returns from its August recess and prepares its budget end game, the question for GOP congressional leaders is simple: What legislative maneuver advances the goal of overturning the ACA, while mitigating to the greatest extent possible the greatest damage done by that law, and simultaneously unites Republicans, splits Democrats, and pulls Independents their way for 2016?
A new national survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted by McLaughlin & Associates and commissioned by Independent Women’s Voice, fielded nationally August 14-15, can help point them in the right direction. The survey reveals that large pluralities of the American electorate would prefer Congress use reconciliation to target harmful provisions of the ACA, rather than try to repeal the law in full.
Perhaps as importantly, an analysis of the survey cross tabs indicates that action against specific provisions of the ACA is even more strongly preferred by key battleground voter groups, such as Independent women and those who are undecided on the generic ballot test question.
- A 43.4 percent plurality of voters would prefer Congress use reconciliation to focus only on the harmful provisions of the law, as opposed to just 26.7 percent who would prefer to pass a full repeal bill knowing the President would veto. Three in ten voters, 29.9 percent, say they don’t know. This holds across partisan lines: Republicans favor focusing on harmful provisions over full repeal by 39.1-38.5 percent, Democrats by 50.4-16.7 percent, and Independents by 38.9-26.7 percent.
- In a more generalized form of the question, without many specific examples and arguments, those who don’t know drop from 30 percent to 16 percent, and voters favor using reconciliation to focus narrowly on harmful portions of Obamacare by a 2-to-1 margin (55.6-28.3 percent), as opposed to broadly focusing on full repeal. This, too, holds across partisan lines: Republicans favor focusing narrowly by 45.6-44.5 percent, Democrats by 66-13 percent, and Independents by 53-30.3 percent.
- Of note to incumbents: A 47 percent plurality of voters are more likely to vote for an incumbent Senator or Member of Congress who will vote to try to accomplish strategic changes to ObamaCare, like repealing the individual mandate, rather than a Senator or Member who would vote only for full repeal or to keep the ACA as it is (21 percent). Republicans favor actual changes by 41.2-35.9 percent, Democrats by 42.4-8.7 percent, and Independents by 48.2-22 percent.
For GOP leaders worried about holding on to the Senate in the 2016 election cycle, a look at two key subgroups of voters – those who said they were undecided when asked if they would vote for a Republican or for a Democrat for Congress if the election were held tomorrow (the fabled “generic ballot test” question), and Independent women – provides even more important information.
On the generic ballot test question among the 1,000 survey respondents, 43.4 percent answered “Republican,” while 43.9 percent answered “Democrat,” and 12.8 percent said they were undecided.
That 12.8 percent “undecided” vote is going to be a key to the 2016 election. And so will be Independent women, who represent about 16 percent of the electorate.
Among the 12.8 percent who were undecided on the generic ballot test, the 16-point gap between those who want to use reconciliation for repealing specific harmful provisions vs. those who want to use reconciliation for full repeal grows to more than 20 points, with 36.4 percent favoring going after harmful provisions, while just 15.9 percent favor a full repeal attempt (a 20.5 percent margin). Among Independent women, the gap grows even wider, with 42.9 percent favoring going after harmful provisions, and just 17.5 percent wanting to see a full repeal vote (a 25.4 percent margin).
And on the simpler form of the question? Again, both generic ballot undecideds and Independent women favor the narrow focus to the broad focus by even larger margins: Among undecideds, it’s 51.8-22 percent for the narrow focus (a 29.8 percent margin), while among Independent women it’s 55.2-23.8 percent (a 31.2 percent margin).
And on the acid test question – voter intent on rewarding or punishing an incumbent who voted only for full repeal, vs. one who voted for actual changes to the ACA? Among the undecideds on the generic ballot, it’s 42.5-14.4 percent in favor of those incumbents who voted for actual changes (a 28.1 percent margin), while Independent women break even harder for incumbents who vote for actual changes, by 52.9-14 percent (a 38.9 percent margin).
The data makes clear that even among Republicans, more voters prioritize Congress sending to Obama’s desk targeted relief efforts – against, say, taxes that make health care more expensive, regulations that make insurance overly comprehensive, the individual mandate, and the Independent Payment Advisory Board – over as much of a full repeal of ObamaCare as possible.
No Republican will object to yet another full repeal vote, even knowing the effort will die impaled by a presidential veto. But most who favor repeal recognize that both the policy strategy -- of slowing down its metastasis -- and the political strategy – of winning majorities with which to ultimately prevail on repeal -- are the same, and entail presenting Obama and his fellow Democrats with difficult choices. Reasonable, bipartisanly popular asks to undo many of grossly disliked aspects of the law are the votes worth having, and the vetoes that will matter to the public.
Higgins is president and CEO of Independent Women's Voice. Manning is a senior policy analyst at IWV specializing in health care, entitlements, economics and fiscal policy. IWV is a politically conservative nonprofit organization focusing on women’s issues.