Walker Takes On Obamacare -- and His Own Party

Walker Takes On Obamacare -- and His Own Party
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With the rise of political outsiders pushing him down in the polls and potentially blocking his path to the Republican presidential nomination, Scott Walker is on a mission to reclaim his mojo.

And that involves taking aim at his own party -- namely, Republicans in Congress.

The Wisconsin governor spent part of his Tuesday at a machine parts company in Minnesota unveiling his plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, which remains unpopular among conservatives. Though policy proposals may not tug the heartstrings of primary voters hungry for non-politicians’ broadsides, Walker used the occasion to hit the GOP establishment for not getting things done. In doing so, he hoped to tap into the conservative base’s frustration with its own party, while also trying to establish himself as a serious, long-term contender.

“Republican leaders in Washington told us during the campaign last year that we needed a Republican Senate to repeal Obamacare,” Walker said. “Well, Republicans have been in charge of both houses of Congress since January and there still isn’t a bill on the president’s desk to repeal Obamacare.”

Walker’s plan includes Republican-favored provisions such as lowering premiums by 25 percent; providing refundable tax credits, based on age instead of income, to be used to purchase insurance by those who don’t have coverage through their employer; expanding health savings accounts; allowing consumers to purchase insurance across state lines; and providing federal funds to states to help cover pre-existing conditions. Walker insisted that his proposal, called the Day One Patient Freedom Plan, will be cost-neutral because it makes changes to the tax code.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the only other Republican candidate to detail an Affordable Care Act replacement plan, equated his rival’s proposal to a federal entitlement program, taking issue with the age-based tax credit. In an op-ed on Monday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio outlined his own approach, which includes similar proposals to Walker’s.

Numerous House attempts to repeal the health care law have failed, as did a Senate effort last month. The Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell decision in June upheld the law, and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has embraced it, particularly as it applies to young people and women. In a tweet on Tuesday, Walker called Clinton “the mother of Obamacare.”

But Democrats and Clinton aren’t Walker’s only targets now. The two-term governor is extending anti-Washington rhetoric to include Republicans in Congress. After watching Donald Trump build and sustain leads in national and early state polls, and seeing GOP voters reward his unfiltered -- and unapologetic -- messaging style, Walker is tilting in the same direction. During his policy speech Tuesday, he signaled to voters that he’s like them in this regard:

“Let me be perfectly clear.  Americans want more than campaign promises, they want results. Actions speak louder than words. I get it.”

Walker stepped onto the presidential stage in January with a well-received speech in Iowa. And from the start, he has billed himself as an unafraid fighter and reformer who won election three times in a blue state. His record was thought to have appeal to conservatives and establishment-aligned Republicans alike. But subsequent shaky performances on big stages and a change of position on issues like immigration and ethanol subsides raised questions about his convictions and forced him to keep his head down while building up his official campaign.

Walker was atop polls in Iowa until recently. Outsiders Trump and Ben Carson have eclipsed him in the Hawkeye State, where he must do well in order to survive. Carly Fiorina is gaining ground there too. And a lackluster debate performance didn’t do him any favors. Walker is polling at 11 percent in Iowa, according to the RCP average, down about half since the beginning of August.

He has taken note. He embraced parts of Trump’s immigration plan this week, and seemed open to the businessman’s call for ending birthright citizenship, though he dodged specifics when asked by reporters in Iowa on Monday.

Earlier that day, however, Walker received a gift from the Iowa gods in the form of protesters. (The governor has been under fire for significant cuts in the state university system budget, among other things.) After being interrupted with cries of “you failed your state” during his soapbox speech, Walker became more animated and energized than he had been in a while. “I will not be intimidated,” he shouted back, a reference to the title of his book (“Unintimidated”).

Walker’s campaign and his supporters were delighted by the exchange and shared the video clip on social media sites. Walker then started fundraising from it, telling supporters in an email: “I took on labor thugs in Wisconsin—and I’ll take them on anywhere.”

The governor continued that theme during his ACA replacement rollout, recalling that “I had to take on the establishment of my own party” as governor. “Some of the lawmakers didn’t want to challenge the status quo, but I told them it was put up or shut up time.”

Walker’s challenge, however, is that his record as a fighter doesn’t quite match his outward personality—and, according to polls, it’s no match for the tone and style of Trump. The governor is still cautious and stays strictly on message, as evidenced by his somewhat muddled responses regarding the birthright issue. In a campaign conference call Tuesday with reporters ahead of the health care speech, questions were screened by the moderator.

But the way Walker sees it, his record in Wisconsin will make up for what he lacks in campaign trail charisma. “Just like I did in my own state, I am willing to take on anyone – including members of my own party – to get the job done,” Walker said. “Talk is cheap. We fight. We win. We get results.”

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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