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Both Parties Seek to Energize Base Voters on Health Issues

As Republicans talk Obamacare repeal, Democrats re-emphasize top issue

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has  questions about contacts between the White House and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about the Russia investigation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has  questions about contacts between the White House and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about the Russia investigation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democrats are seeking to energize their core supporters by repeating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s remark this week that Republicans hope to revive a push to overhaul the 2010 health care law.

“McConnell gave us a gift,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer told MSNBC on Friday. “That’s a game-changer when he shows who he is and wants to really hurt people on health care.”

McConnell said Wednesday that the GOP may pursue repeal next year if it wins enough seats in the elections. The Kentucky Republican also said entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are driving deficits.

Democratic candidates are issuing press releases and tweets warning that a GOP-controlled Congress might roll back the law and its protections for pre-existing conditions, which has enjoyed growing support nationwide since Republicans targeted it last year. They also say Republicans want to reduce the growth of popular entitlement programs.

But McConnell appears to expect the idea of repeal to also rile up GOP base voters. For months, polls have shown that health care is the top issue for Democratic voters, but Republicans still want to repeal the health care law, also known as the Affordable Care Act.

“Republicans overwhelmingly disapprove of the law,” said Ashley Kirzinger, a senior survey analyst at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “I think that Sen. McConnell is trying this out because despite the fact that some of the provisions that are part of the ACA are really popular, the ACA overall is still not.”

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Thursday found that of Republican voters who said health care was their top campaign issue this year, 18 percent said they specifically meant repealing the health care law. That comes behind 23 percent of survey respondents who said they meant addressing high health care costs.

In Nevada, where health care has been a marquee issue in the Senate race between Republican incumbent Dean Heller and Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, 29 percent of GOP voters said a candidate’s commitment to overhauling the law is most important to determining their votes.

In Florida, where the health care law is less of an issue in the Senate race between Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Nelson, 31 percent of Republican voters said wanting to scale it back is the most important issue in determining who they would vote for.

But while Republican voters may say they’re clamoring for Congress to overhaul the law, GOP candidates are not talking loudly about their plans to do so on the campaign trail. When it comes to health care, many are campaigning to protect pre-existing conditions, which the 2010 law does. Polls show a majority of voters across the political spectrum support keeping that provision.

Watch: GOP Shifts Messaging on Health Care Ahead of Midterm Elections

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GOP on defense

President Donald Trump said Thursday on Twitter that if any Republican did not support pre-existing conditions coverage, “they will after I speak to them.”

Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz built his national political ambitions around his opposition to the health care law, going so far as to shut down the government in 2013. Now, as he faces off against Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Cruz has taken a quieter tone on the law, vowing to maintain protections for pre-existing conditions although he has said he wants to roll back other parts of the law.

While Republicans say they could revisit legislation to overhaul the law, they’re also doubling down on a commitment to guarantee coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Those protections have become a focal point across the country after the Trump administration declined to defend those provisions against a lawsuit. A group of conservative state officials sued to overturn the law after Republicans used a tax overhaul last year to effectively end the requirement that most Americans have health insurance.

The repeal measure that House Republicans passed last year would have weakened protections for pre-existing conditions by allowing states to seek waivers that would allow insurers to charge sick patients more for coverage. In the Senate, Cruz proposed to let insurers sell plans that do not meet all of the health care law’s requirements if they also offer policies that do comply with it, which health experts said would lead to higher costs for sick patients.

In both chambers, allowing insurers to sell plans that would not comply with all of the law’s requirements were critical to earning votes from more conservative members.

Two Republican lawmakers fighting for re-election, Reps. David Young of Iowa and Pete Sessions of Texas, each recently proposed nonbinding resolutions that commit to protecting pre-existing conditions if a federal judge rolls back the protections.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor has yet to rule on the lawsuit by the conservative state officials, but said during oral arguments last month that he would try to do so as soon as possible. The administration asked that O’Connor postpone judgment until after the sign-up period for insurance sold on the federal and state exchanges ends in December in order to avoid chaos in the markets.

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