GOP in retreat on ObamaCare

Republicans are retreating from calls to repeal ObamaCare ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

Less than a year after the GOP gave up on its legislative effort to repeal the law, Democrats are going on offense on this issue, attacking Republicans for their votes as they hope to retake the House majority.

Antonio Delgado, a Democrat running for Rep. John FasoJohn James FasoTax law failed to save GOP majority New York New Members 2019 McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote MORE’s (R-N.Y.) seat, is running an ad saying Faso broke a promise to protect people with pre-existing conditions.

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Faso voted for the House’s repeal bill in 2017. He says his message on ObamaCare is “keep what works, fix what doesn't.”

The Cook Political Report rates the race a toss-up.

Rep. Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthur 10 things we learned from the midterms New Jersey New Members 2019 On The Money: Trump, Senate leaders to huddle on border wall funding | Fed bank regulator walks tightrope on Dodd-Frank | Koch-backed groups blast incentives for corporations after Amazon deal MORE, a New Jersey Republican who spearheaded a compromise that helped push an ObamaCare repeal bill through the House last spring, is also playing defense. He is in a competitive race in a district rated as lean Republican by Cook.

Asked if the GOP should push forward with ObamaCare repeal, MacArthur replied: “I am focused on improving healthcare in any way we can; I'm not looking to tilt at windmills.”

ObamaCare’s favorability in polls has improved since the repeal push last year, with more now favoring the law than not. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in March found that 50 percent of the public favors the law, while 43 percent holds an unfavorable view.

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said the political winds have shifted on the issue, turning ObamaCare into a subject Democrats want to tout and many Republicans want to duck.

“I don’t think it’s seen as a winning issue,” he said. “It’s also an issue that tends to fire up the Democratic base more so than the Republican base.”

Republican supporters of repeal argue the House is paying for the Senate GOP’s sins.

While Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (R-Wis.), with the help of lawmakers such as MacArthur and Faso, was able to muscle through ObamaCare repeal legislation, it died in the Senate.

That’s a bigger factor than shifts in the law’s popularity, said Michael Steel, a former aide to former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBreaking the impasse on shutdown, border security McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (R-Ohio).

While “there’ve been some incremental improvements in the popularity,” he said, “I think the legislative record is the bigger factor.”

Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeBottom Line Dems hit GOP on health care with additional ObamaCare lawsuit vote Overnight Health Care: House files motion to defend ObamaCare in lawsuit | Trump Medicaid director leaving after three months MORE (R-Okla.) likewise argued that “the Senate has sabotaged the issue.”

Democrats argue they have the wind at their backs on health care, pointing to polls like a CNN survey in February that found 83 percent of voters rate health care as important to their vote, above the economy or taxes.

“If Republicans continue their war on health care and Democrats call them on it, the opposition party will continue to widen its advantage in the midterm elections,” Brad Woodhouse, campaign director of the pro-ObamaCare group Protect Our Care, wrote in a memo this month.

Asked if Republicans should run on ObamaCare repeal this year, Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsWhat a year it’s been: A month-by-month look back at 2018's biggest stories Trump vents frustration over wall funding, fueling uncertainty over shutdown GOP scrambles to prevent shutdown after right-wing insurrection MORE (R-N.Y.) replied simply, “No.”

“Frankly I think we should be running more on our positive issues, starting with tax reform,” Collins said.

If Republicans do talk about health care, he said, it should be in attacking Democrats for favoring a single payer system.

“When one of our opponents comes out and says ‘I want a single-payer system,’ sure I'll take it to them, but I don't think we should be leading with it,” Collins said. “I think to some extent we've moved beyond that message.”

Some conservatives are not happy with Republicans who are backing down on the issue.

“Freedom should be a winning issue,” said Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs at the conservative group FreedomWorks. “Republicans should be running on this.”

He said the party needs to get better at messaging. “They aren’t messaging it at all; they're not talking about it all,” he said.

Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), kept up the criticism of the health-care law when asked if Republicans are backing off the issue.

“Voters will be made aware of Democrats’ leading role in destroying the American health care system,” he said. “They own every failure after they forced Obamacare on the country.”

While many Republicans said they are not going to emphasize health care in the campaign this year, they argued they are not worried about Democratic attacks.

“Some people don't like my involvement, other people appreciate it,” said MacArthur, who brokered a crucial compromise with the conservative Freedom Caucus last year that helped the repeal bill pass the House. “I did what I believe was right.”

Cole, a former chairman of the NRCC, said many Republicans are in districts where Democratic attacks on repeal won’t work.

“If that's the attack, bring it on in my district, every district's different, but I'm in a state where we're not even a Medicaid expansion state because that's considered ObamaCare,” Cole said.

Faso said that he now wants to take potentially bipartisan actions to help bring premiums down, like providing funding known as reinsurance to lower rates. 

“We shouldn't relitigate the issue from 2010,” he said. “We should actually figure [it] out, and resist the temptation of sloganeering on this and actually work to fix the system.”