In the wake of the GOP Congress’ failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, I think it would be worth taking some time to look at the politics of health care. I for one would argue that Obamacare is one of the main reasons Republicans currently hold power in Washington DC. Having run against the policy very strongly in 2010, 2014, and in 2016. I think government involvement in healthcare is what gave rise to the Tea Party movement and has shaped our politics today more than any issue since the Iraq War. That being said, when it comes to healthcare, Democrats has a definite political advantage over Republican, and likely always will.
Season 7 Episode 2 of the great political drama “The West Wing” is called “The Mommy Problem”. This is a reference to the caricature of modern political parties where Republican’s priorities like National Security, Moral Decay, Terrorism, and Immigration are more paternal thus making Republicans the “Daddy Party” and Democrats whose main priorities are things like health care, public assistance, the environment, and education are more maternal issues thus making them the “Mommy Party”. This idea holds out with the most recent election. According to a Pew Research survey from June of 2016 voters whose main priorities were the Economy, Terrorism, Immigration, Foreign Policy, and Supreme Court Appointments went for President Trump in higher numbers. Voters whose top priorities were Health care, Gun Policy, Education, the Environment, and Treatment of racial, ethnic minorities preferred Hillary Clinton. The fact is when Americans look to a political party to fix issues in healthcare, they aren’t looking to the Republicans.
In 1965 President Johnson signed Medicaid and Medicare into existence to provide health care for the very poor and the elderly respectively. With that move, Americans accepted that the government had a significant role in healthcare and the game has been being played on the Democrat’s terms ever since. It is far easier to establish and expand government programs than it is to take them away from people who have come to rely on them.
Additionally, Republicans suffer from a lack of consensus on the issue of healthcare. As long as a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act is getting votes exclusively from Republicans, whatever proposal it is forced to balance between the likes of Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul on the right and Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski in the middle. Democrats didn’t have this problem when originally passing Obamacare. Keep in mind that the ACA’s insurance mandate was modeled off of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care reforms. While an individual mandate is still a massive increase in the role of government in the healthcare market, it is comparatively less so than a movement to a single payer system or establishing a public option. Regardless of Obamacare going in a less liberal direction, the law had no problem getting votes from the far left of the Democratic caucus. While Bernie Sanders would prefer a single payer system to Obamacare, it is still a step in the right direction from his standpoint.
For these reasons, Republicans are back-footed when it comes to health care policy and the Obamacare repeal. While I am disappointed that our Republicans in Congress failed to live up to the promises of a repeal, I can’t say I am necessarily surprised. Repealing the ACA is a heavy lift and having a Republican controlled congress is not the same as having a conservative controlled congress.
Jacob Vandever is political activist, lifelong Oregonian, and proud Oregon State graduate. Jacob is the Editor of the Oregon Upstart Blog.