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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems Will Limit Damage to Obamacare

If reason and rules prevail, the amount of damage Trump and the Republicans do to Obamacare should be limited, according to incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Mr. Schumer vows to block all efforts to kill Obamacare, or gut Dodd-Frank financial regulation. “We’re not going to undo it, period. And I have the votes,” says Schumer, quoted in the New York Times editorial “Can Senate Democrats Save the Party?” The Bipartisan Policy Center concurrs, noting “the Senate is not likely to have the 60 votes needed to pass a wholesale repeal” of Obamacare.

Schumer’s confidence may seem a little cocky in light of the electoral college thrashing Democrats just suffered. But Dems did pick up a couple of senate seats. And Clinton’s historically-unprecedened popular vote win for a presidential candidate who lost the electoral college vote — 2 million plus and counting — should temper the public’s perception of any mandate the Republicans can credibly claim. The Times editorial adds, further:

Much of the burden will fall on Democrats in the closely divided Senate, where arcane rules give the opposition party leverage to shape or block legislation passed by the rigidly conservative, Republican-dominated House. The challenge facing the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, is to determine when to say no and when to compromise on matters of broad economic benefit.

Numerous opinion polls indicate strong support for key provisions of Obamacare, and a healthy share of those who criticise the ACA want a stronger, not a weaker role for government in providing health care. Asked, “Now, please tell me if you favor or oppose having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for-all” last December, 58 percent of respondents in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll said they would favor such a reform.

Most Democrats have long been open to “mend it, don’t end it” reforms to make Obamacare better serve the public, with considerable public support. Asked “Which is closer to your view on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare? It is working relatively well, and it needs some fixes to be better. It is fatally flawed and should be repealed and replaced?” in Bloomberg Politics Poll conducted March 19-22,  50 percent of respondents agreed that “it needs some fixes,” while 46 percent said “it should be replaced.”

The Republicans have thus far refused to negotiate in good faith for anything short of an all-out repeal of the measure. The central question going forward is, will Trump eventually settle for reasonable changes to the ACA with bipartisan support?

After meeting with President Obama, Trump reportedly told the Wall Street Journal three days into his transition that he might keep popular Obamacare provisions, including “the prohibition against insurers denying coverage because of patients’ existing conditions, and a provision that allows parents to provide years of additional coverage for children on their insurance policies.” Trump said “I like those very much.”

President Obama has indicated even he might support “replacement” legislation that gives the Republicans some credit, if it preserves the popular provisions of the ACA, even if it’s called something else. If Trump gets to the point where he is willing to support bipartisan reform of Obamacare, he might get some deserved credit for real leadership, instead of parroting the GOP’s childish, triumphalist demand that Obamacare be obliterated and replaced with a vaguely-stated something more to their liking at a later date.

Even with bipartisan reform of the ACA, Trump and GOP leaders can still strut, crow and gush about how they ended Obamacare. But it will be sensibly-calibrated, bipartisan reform, if it’s anything at all. Republicans will likely win some of their favored “reforms,” such as health savings/reimbursement accounts and greater flexibility for the states in administering Medicaid allotments.

No doubt some Republican hard-liners are hoping enough Democratic senators will be so cowed by Trump’s electoral college win and the difficult 2018 senate race landscape Dems face, that they will simply cave and support repeal of Obamacare, with no guarantees of any of the popular provisions being included in some sketchy “replacement bill.” More likely, Democratic senators will insist on responsible reforms, and that they will get some of the credit for it.

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