Article Image

IPFS News Link • Obamacare

Democrats open to replacing Obamacare


Senate Democrats will never vote to repeal Obamacare. But once the deed is done, a surprising number of them say they're open to helping Republicans replace it.

"If it makes sense, I think there'll be a lot of Democrats who would be for it," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

As Republicans aim to make good on their years-long vow to quash Obamacare and replace it with their own health care vision, they'll have to do something Democrats were never able to: Bring members of the opposing party on board. Enacting any substantive alternative will take at least eight Democratic votes in the Senate.

Yet the GOP will have powerful leverage that Democrats lacked in 2009 – namely, a huge number of members facing reelection in hostile territory.

Twenty-five Democrats are on the ballot in 2018, including 10 in states that Donald Trump just won. The GOP is betting that many or most in the latter group will be under irresistible pressure to back an Obamacare replacement, if the alternative is leaving millions of people in the lurch without insurance.

Interviews with more than a half-dozen Democratic senators spanning the party's ideological spectrum suggest the Republican strategy may not be far-fetched. As harshly partisan as the entire Obamacare experience has been, replacing it could draw bipartisan backing, as long as the changes are more adjustment than overhaul.

"If they want to change things around the edges, fix some of the things we agree ought to be fixed and call it Trumpcare, that's OK," said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats and is up for reelection in 2018. "Let's get people covered."

There's a difference, of course, between Democrats saying they're willing to entertain a GOP replacement and voting for one. Democrats in tough races can burnish their bipartisan bona fides just by expressing openness to working with Republicans on health care.

McCaskill, for one, is skeptical Republicans can craft a workable replacement that satisfies conservatives without repelling centrist Democrats. "For six years, I've looked [for Republican replacement plans] in closets, I've looked in committee rooms, I've looked under desks. …They've had six frickin' years to figure it out."

Incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer essentially ruled out bipartisan cooperation on an Obamacare alternative, saying "we're not going to do a replacement" if the law is repealed and squashing the idea of bipartisan cooperation on any half-measure. Other Democrats scoff at the idea of assisting what they call a Republican attempt to hold the health care of 22 million Americans hostage as they debate replacement plans.

But Republicans aren't focused on Schumer; they're looking to pick off rank-and-file members who they believe won't risk being blamed for millions of Americans losing their insurance.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who will run the party's Senate campaign arm next cycle, said "there are seven senators on the Democratic side that will have a political reason to work with us." The challenge, he said, will be finding the eighth, since lawmakers will want to avoid being seen as the deciding vote – a potentially career-defining scarlet letter.