Republican Party wins in several hotly contested Senate races in Tuesday’s election revealed deep-seated dissatisfaction with the status quo in spite of Democratic reassurances of improvements, raising questions about the future of Obamacare under GOP control. The Washington Examiner reports that up to a dozen seats either remained or became Republican, ousting many Democratic senators and giving the Republican Party control of both Congressional houses. The victorious party campaigned with many vows to strike a blow at the Affordable Healthcare Act, known as Obamacare, if elected. Therefore, the sweeping triumph leaves many wondering how they will proceed from here to fulfill that promise without jeopardizing their chances in the 2016 elections.
Results in West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, Arkansas and Alaska replaced Democratic incumbents with Republicans. Republican incumbents in Kentucky, Kansas and Georgia held onto to their Senate seats. Neither Louisiana Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy nor Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu achieved the minimum 50 percent of the vote necessary to claim victory so the state will hold a runoff election in December to decide the winning party. While the numbers do not give the Republican Party the 60-vote supermajority necessary to break any attempt at a Democratic filibuster in the upcoming renewed debate over health care, they still have the clout to do some damage and the weight of public sentiment demanding tangible change behind them.
In spite of Obama’s attempts to win over the public with claims of economic progress and general satisfaction with the implementation of the healthcare law, the vote reveals that “We the People” are not buying it. Republican senator John Boozman of Arizona said that the election results were more of a presidential “referendum” than a ringing endorsement of the Republican Party or its platform. Exit polls questioned voters on issues important to them and found that the economy, unemployment, the stock market and gas prices are among the top concerns raised. About 60 percent of voters characterize themselves as “dissatisfied” or “angry” with both the administration’s and the Republicans’ performance.
Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee told MSNBC that as the visible head of government, the President takes the blame when voters are displeased with the country’s direction and the Washington political machine’s inability to find workable solutions. Even with a valiant effort to get the vote out, Democrats found that the Republican Party had learned a few things about raising the turnout for these elections and that guilt by association with President Obama and his lackluster performance was a much bigger drag than expected. The general dissatisfaction prevented them from working the same turnout magic that sent Obama to the White House in two consecutive presidential elections giving the Republican party the wins they needed to gain dominance in the Senate.
Perhaps of most importance, Democrats learned that even a good turnout of voters could not overcome the drag of the president, the economy, Obamacare and a general unhappiness regarding the state of the country under the current administration. The Senate will reconvene in January with Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. as the majority leader. McConnell and others made many campaign promises to repeal Obamacare which leaves the Republican Party walking a fine line between keeping their word to satisfy the conservatives and hurting their chances to maintain their majority in 2016 if they begin dismantling a healthcare system already fairly entrenched, albeit not universally popular. A full repeal would mean thousands of people would find themselves once again without health insurance which could be a political minefield for the party responsible.
The National Journal reports that a symbolic vote for a full repeal is expected to come first, followed by a push to chip away at some of the more unpopular or troublesome pieces of the healthcare law. They point out that Obama would undoubtedly veto any repeal proposal passed by Congress anyway so that successfully fulfilling the promises, almost certainly will not happen, while the president is still in office. However, being seen to make the effort protects the Republican Party against accusations of apathy and broken promises while steering clear of actually taking away anyone’s health insurance benefits, which could cause an ugly backlash for the GOP.
Nonetheless, Republicans may be able to gain some ground by targeting specific unpopular sections of the Affordable Care Act. Some of the more vulnerable targets include the individual mandate and its penalties for those failing to carry health insurance; the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices designed to cover some of the costs for the universal coverage provisions, and the definition of full-time work as 30 or more hours for the purpose of offering employer-provided health coverage. President Steve Caldeira of the International Franchise Association warns that without statutory changes the number of available part-time jobs would rise while full-time jobs and overall working hours would drop as businesses cut worker hours to make up the increased costs of insurance coverage. Republicans say this is already happening and Democrats argue that raising the cutoff standard would make it even more likely.
With so many Americans already heavily invested in the existing coverage, whether they are satisfied with the Obamacare insurance plans or not, the Republican Party has a politically tricky road to walk in any talk of repealing or replacing the plan. Taking away the coverage would brand them as lacking in compassion for people in need of healthcare, yet doing nothing would discredit their integrity and ability to follow through on campaign promises. Creating a win-win will be a matter of raising discussions of reform that resonate with people’s needs while addressing questions of financial feasibility and responsibility for the government, business owners, families and individuals. As yet, Republicans lack unity on a workable alternative that addresses rising healthcare costs and the problem of uninsured citizens. American Health Policy Institute president, Tevi Troy, questions the likelihood of a 100 percent repeal of Obamacare at this point but having raised the issue, the Republican Party cannot now ignore it without putting their candidates’ political futures at stake in upcoming elections.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
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