Dems see ’18 upside in ObamaCare repeal

Dems see ’18 upside in ObamaCare repeal
© Greg Nash

Democrats are hoping to turn the tables on ObamaCare for the 2018 midterm elections, exacting political revenge as the Republican Party turns its focus to repealing and replacing the program. 

The GOP successfully used the healthcare law to take control of the House from Democrats in 2010, framing the policy as a government takeover that would raise taxes.

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With ObamaCare’s repeal on the horizon, Democrats hope to make the process just as painful for Republicans, pointing to the 20 million people currently covered by the exchanges whose insurance could be at risk.  

“They’ll have to explain to their constituents why they’re stripping healthcare away from millions of Americans while simultaneously making it more expensive and in some cases completely unattainable,” said Justin Barasky, the former communications director of the pro-Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty MORE Priorities USA super PAC. 

“I wouldn’t want to be a Republican member of Congress as this moves forward.”

One Democratic source close to Senate leadership and the campaign committees told The Hill that there are already conversations about making ObamaCare the poisonous issue for Republicans that it was for Democrats in the 2010 midterms.

“Politics aside, there’s a very real service people have come to rely on and there are definitely ways to improve it, but to totally dismantle it and not offer an alternative isn’t something Democrats will be held responsible for,” another national Democrat said. 

“Using it as an offensive issue is the right tack to take.”

Top Democrats are already gearing up for a fight — New York Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLouisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in McConnell signals Senate GOP will oppose combined debt ceiling-funding bill MORE, the incoming minority leader who chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2006 and 2008, warned Republicans that Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China MORE’s (R-Ky.) plan to start the repeal process on day one of the 2017 session “will cause huge calamity from one end of America to the other.”

“They don’t know what to do; they are like the dog that caught the bus. To our Republican friends across the aisle: Bring it on,” Schumer said Tuesday during the weekly leadership media conference.

The actual machinations of a “repeal and replace” plan are uncertain, making the political outcomes unpredictable. 

Republicans haven’t yet decided on a specific replacement plan, and GOP lawmakers are debating how long they want to delay the repeal’s effects when it’s passed through budget reconciliation, a tool that would deny Democrats the use of the filibuster.

The length of the delay will be vital, both for the millions who will have to find new healthcare and for the repeal’s impact on the 2018 elections.

If lawmakers adhere to the shorter timelines, either a 12-month or 18-month delay, the roughest part of the post-ObamaCare transition will pop up in the heart of the midterms.

Some members of Republican leadership, including Texas Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Democrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards MORE, are floating a three-year delay to slowly phase out the complex healthcare plan while keeping pressure off at-risk lawmakers ahead of the midterms. But many of the more conservative lawmakers are highly critical of waiting that long, wanting the issue dealt with more swiftly in the hopes of closing the book on the policy that’s been the scourge of the GOP for six years.

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) has promised that no one will be “worse off” during that transition phase. With no agreed-upon repeal plan, the positive or negative effects of a repeal are unclear. 

One conservative healthcare expert told The Hill that he worries Republicans will rush through a poorly thought-through replacement plan. The expert added that the specter of 20 million potentially furious voters being shoved off of the insurance rolls before 2018 is keeping congressional Republicans up at night.

Those fears have been amplified by research that shows that uninsured rates would be higher after repeal than they were pre-ObamaCare, with a trillion federal dollars wiped out of the healthcare economy.  

Republicans agree that the party must tread carefully during the replacement negotiations to create the free-market-based solution that they believe will slash costs to both the individual and to the economy while ensuring that many aren’t left out in the cold. 

“If there’s a thoughtful, pragmatic approach, then it will put the Democrats on defense. If it’s an all-or-nothing approach — just repeal the whole thing — then you could have traditional Republican families beginning to struggle,” said one Republican former campaign manager from a 2016 battleground race. 

The former campaign manager added that the party has to be careful not to over-promise, avoiding a calamity like President Obama’s notorious and eventually reversed promise that Americans who like their healthcare plan could keep it. 

If done right, Republicans say, the repeal will be a clear victory for them and the American people. 

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 43 percent of Americans want either a repeal or a scaled-back version of ObamaCare, while 49 percent favored keeping it or expanding it. But Republicans shut down the prospect that ObamaCare could end up being a 2018 weakness. 

Emboldened in no small part by their electoral success, Republicans are ready to follow through on the half-decade-long promise of repeal. 

“It’s kind of hilarious that incoming Minority Leader Schumer is saying: ‘Bring it on.’ ObamaCare has singlehandedly led to more Democratic losses than any other law in recent history,” said Jason Pye, the director of public policy at the conservative FreedomWorks. 

Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerLouisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in McConnell signals Senate GOP will oppose combined debt ceiling-funding bill MORE should look at the scoreboard.”

But Democrats are pointing to effects outside of those who receive direct coverage, arguing that voters will realize the extent of what they had once it is gone. 

“Republicans are going to have to recognize that taking away a policy tens of millions have benefited from is not a great strategy when you have elections in 2018 and when you have a policy that impacts the bottom lines of people across this country,” said one Democratic strategist.  

Jonathan Swan and Sarah Ferris contributed.