Obamacare Advocates Set Their Sights On Republican Senators Out West

It feels good, and rare, for them to be on the offensive.
Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), left, and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are the next targets of Obamacare advocates.
Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), left, and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are the next targets of Obamacare advocates.

Democrats are confidently selling Obamacare for perhaps the first time since the law was passed.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have rallied behind the case that the Affordable Care Act needs to be amended and not repealed, using the prospects of coverage disappearing as a cudgel against Republicans, including newly installed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. But the real action has been in the districts, where constituents and activists alike have overwhelmed phone lines and town halls demanding that Republicans put the brakes on their repeal efforts.

The latest bit of disruption took place Thursday night, when constituents practically upended Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s town hall over concerns about an Obamacare repeal and the Republican lawmaker’s handling of congressional oversight with respect to the Trump administration. Other representatives have had similar experiences, with some fleeing their events, others being forced to leave with police protection and a select few (maybe just one: Justin Amash) forcefully pushing back against the crowd.

Feeling buoyed by what they’ve seen, groups tasked with defending the law are ramping up their efforts. Save My Care, which is in the middle of a two-month bus tour, is planning a new demonstration targeting Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) outside his appearance at a Republican Party dinner this weekend. And from there, it’s going to Arizona to target GOP Sen. Jeff Flake.

What Obamacare defenders need in the Senate are three Republican votes unwilling to support repeal legislation so long as there isn’t a replacement to accompany it. And for that, Heller and Flake are prime targets, as both have had some moderate streaks in the past, both come from states that expanded Medicaid coverage under Obamacare and both are up for re-election in 2018.

But even if groups like Save My Care are able to sow enough doubt of the efficacy of repeal among elected officials ― and the evidence is mounting that serious doubt exists ― the law remains under obvious threat. Price has vast administrative control at HHS over Obamacare’s implementation. And he could try to reduce and upend the legislation through its administration.

For now, the hope is that enough localized pressure will force members to legislate around the law (as opposed to killing it) and make even Price think twice about letting Obamacare simply crater to death.

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2017 Scenes From Congress & Capitol Hill