Dems begin plotting ObamaCare defense strategy

Dems begin plotting ObamaCare defense strategy
© Getty

(This story first appeared on The Hill Extra)

As Republicans begin working to repeal key pieces of the Affordable Care Act, Democrats are beginning to plot their strategy to save it.

Advocates and policymakers have started conversations focusing on ensuring 20 million Americans don’t lose their health insurance and on maintaining some core ObamaCare provisions.


The Republican election wave victory last week has thrown the healthcare sphere into confusion as lawmakers examine the potential impacts of repealing and replacing ObamaCare. Top GOP leaders have doubled down on their commitment to eliminate the law, yet certain crucial elements — such as timing, legislative vehicle and policy — haven’t been hammered out.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynCornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP Is the Biden administration afraid of trade? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit MORE (R-Texas) told reporters that Republicans were considering two reconciliation bills: one to deal with tax reform and the other to repeal ObamaCare.

The reconciliation bill repealing the healthcare law could be tied to the fiscal 2017 budget resolution, which Congress never passed, and could be sent to President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups MORE’s desk soon after he takes office. A reconciliation bill needs only 51 votes to pass.

“Nothing has been decided, but that’s certainly one of the options,” Cornyn said. “We can go ahead and repeal ObamaCare as we’ve done before,” but this time the likelihood is the president would sign it.

Republicans sent a reconciliation bill to President Obama earlier this year that would have repealed sections of the law. The president vetoed it.

Congressional battle looming

To Democrats, President Obama’s signature healthcare law is working. They acknowledge fixes are needed to ensure long-term stability and affordability, but supporters say the millions of Americans who have gained insurance is proof the law is accomplishing its main goal.

That’s a message Democrats want to get out.

“Do we need to fix some things? Absolutely, and it’s going to take Republicans and Democrats working together,” Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Senate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act Democrats struggle to gain steam on Biden spending plan MORE (D-Mont.) told reporters. He was hopeful there could be some common ground that both parties can agree on. But if Republicans insist on trying to destroy the law entirely, Tester said Democrats won’t use the same model of obstruction Republicans have been employing for the last eight years.

“I don’t think we’re going to filibuster for the sake of filibustering. That’s not in our nature,” Tester said. “We want things to work. And, hopefully, if the needle isn't pushed too far to the right, we’ll be able to get some good things done.”

Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinManchin on finishing agenda by Halloween: 'I don't know how that would happen' Senate Democrats ask for details on threats against election workers Fill the Eastern District of Virginia  MORE (D-Ill.) said Democrats could try to pick their policy battles during the budget process.

“Budget reconciliation starts with a budget resolution, and that may be our chance to argue some of these issues,” Durbin told reporters.

The Senate Democratic Caucus met for the first time with its newly elected senators Nov. 16, and preserving elements of the last eight years was a topic of conversation, Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Who is afraid of the EU's carbon border adjustment plan? MORE (D-Del.) told The Hill Extra.

“We had a pretty robust debate about the path forward to defend some of the most important pieces of the legacy of the last eight years,” Coons said. “One of them certainly is access to affordable quality healthcare for millions of Americans and strengthening our outreach and our organizing and our connecting to communities, particularly those that didn’t turn out and vote for our Democratic candidate for president has got to be a big part of that.”

It’s hard to develop tactics against a Republican repeal and replace effort that hasn’t been planned out yet, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyExpats plead with US to deliver COVID-19 vaccines Growing number of Democrats endorse abolishing debt limit altogether Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase MORE (D-Conn.) told The Hill Extra. But what they can do is educate the public on the benefits of the law.

“We’ve begun to have conversations here about how to continue to explain the successes of the Affordable Care Act,” Murphy said. “Notwithstanding people’s concerns about premium announcements, this is still a law that’s insuring 20 million people with 80 percent satisfaction rates. That’s pretty stunning success rate for the Affordable Care Act.”

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' GOP disappointment with McConnell deal could delay vote MORE (D-Md.) said his staff is planning a strategy to try and protect those critical provisions.

“My staff has already started to try to analyze what is possible to be done,” Cardin told The Hill Extra.

“Obviously you have to wait to see what the president-elect suggests and what happens in Congress, but we are looking at the various components.”

Advocates assemble

Post-election, advocates quickly began to mobilize.

Less than 24 hours after the election, Families USA spearheaded a call with more than 1,000 advocates on the line to begin forming a coalition to protect those with health insurance from losing coverage.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) released an issue brief Nov. 16 warning of the dangers of repealing the health law. If Congress repealed ObamaCare using budget reconciliation, it could throw “massive disruption and chaos” into the individual insurance market even if its implementation were delayed, the report said.

For CAP Action Fund, protecting healthcare is a high priority, Emily Tisch Sussman, CAP Action Fund campaign director, told The Hill Extra. The organization began having meetings right away, examining potential new stakeholders and re-energizing the old.

“Honestly, we’re moving full steam ahead,” she said. “We really are just fully moving forward, but people were prepared for a different scenario, so a lot of it is just figuring out what the field is now, doing the policy analysis, which is our bread and butter, on policies that impact people and then just trying to get the gang back together again.”

See more exclusive content policy and regulatory news on our subscription-only service, The Hill Extra.