GOP Field Renews "Repeal Obamacare" Battle Cry

GOP Field Renews "Repeal Obamacare" Battle Cry
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The U.S. Supreme Court moved Thursday to uphold a law that Republicans, particularly those running for president, intensely dislike.

But the court’s decision to leave the Affordable Care Act intact may have a silver lining for the GOP field: It allows them to renew a once potent rallying cry -- anti-Obamacare rhetoric -- that had become somewhat dormant on the campaign trail as the justices mulled whether subsidies for health coverage purchased on the federal insurance exchange were lawful.

Almost immediately after Thursday’s 6-3 ruling, Republican White House hopefuls lined up behind a revamped cause: to repeal and replace the law entirely.

“This decision is not the end of the fight against Obamacare,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said. “As president of the United States … I will work with Congress to repeal and replace this flawed law with conservative reforms that empower consumers with more choices and control over their health care decisions.”

In announcing his candidacy last week in Miami, Bush notably left off the “repeal” mantra from his speech. And several candidates running for president had been markedly quiet about the ACA ahead of the court’s ruling, tending to mention it only as one in a litany of complaints about what they consider big-government overreach. 

As the subsidies for 6.4 million Americans hung in the balance, Republicans were faced with a politically sticky challenge of wanting the court to unravel the law while also worrying about how to address the needs of millions of Americans who would lose their coverage. Republicans were divided on how best to proceed if the court struck down this integral part of the law, with some wanting to temporarily extend the subsidies while others preferred holding to principle and letting them expire.

The matter would have been particularly challenging for candidates in swing states with high numbers of voters receiving the federal aid. Florida, for example, the home state of Bush and fellow candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, has the largest contingent of people (1.3 million) getting subsidies. (Florida is one of 34 states that uses the federal exchange instead of a state-run marketplace.)

Now, Republicans can privately breathe a sigh of relief about avoiding a divisive and politically complicated scenario on the policy and constituent-relations front.

“I think that in some ways this actually could help our presidential candidate because there won’t be the folks out there without subsidies screaming out,” Arizona Republican Rep. Matt Salmon told RCP. “I think that most Americans that have really been hurt [by Obamacare changes] over the last couple years will be the loudest voices now and I’m not sure that won’t help our candidate.”

Rubio, who was hosting a veterans event in New Hampshire when the ruling came down, said he was committed to repealing the law and replacing it with his own proposal of a “consumer-centered” plan that he says would give patients and families more control over their health care decisions, something for which most of the GOP contenders have advocated.

While Republicans will push more loudly on the campaign trail for gutting the law, the replacement part could become tricky. There are various proposals from members of Congress and outlines suggested by presidential candidates. But the party is not united around an alternative plan. Still, the Oval Office aspirants will argue that a replacement can only come with a Republican in the White House.

“Today’s decision only reinforces why we need a president who will bring about real reform that repeals Obamacare and replaces it with a plan that expands consumer choice, increases coverage, delivers better value for the dollar, and gives states more control, without stifling job creation,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a GOP presidential contender who voted against the law in 2010.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is expected to announce his candidacy next month, echoed those sentiments, and added that the ruling “means Republicans in the House and Senate must redouble their efforts to repeal and replace this destructive and costly law.”

Most of the Republican candidates released similar statements.

Ohio's John Kasich, one of the few Republican governors to accept the expansion of Medicaid coverage in his state offered under the Affordable Care Act, called for replacing Obamacare with a more market-driven solution administered by the states. "We will continue to pursue innovative ways for Ohio to best meet the unique needs of our residents, in line with our priorities, and reduce the negative consequences of this flawed law," the governor's spokesman, Rob Nichols, said.

Though the Supreme Court removed doubts about pieces of the law, enabling Republicans to run fully against it -- as occurred in 2012 and during the 2010 and 2014 midterms – the GOP may find the issue to be less of a driving issue for voters. Recent polls show a slight majority of Americans oppose the law.

Democrats, on the other hand, are poised to run by fully embracing it—literally. After Thursday’s court decision, Hillary Clinton tweeted a picture of her and President Obama embracing. Democrats will likely frame Republicans as working to take away insurance from people who now have it under the health care act.

Republicans, however, wasted no time in focusing on the general election opposition. "Hillary Clinton supports big government mandates and expanding the government’s reach into our healthcare system, maneuvers that have made our healthcare system worse off,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

 

RCP congressional correspondent James Arkin contributed to this report.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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