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In Closing Days of Election, Senate Republicans on Defense on Health Care

With just 20 days until Election Day, vulnerable Senate Republicans are doubling down on their cyclelong effort to try to cover up their records of voting to gut the popular Affordable Care Act and its coverage protections for pre-existing conditions. Even Senator Lindsey Graham himself conceded this morning that “Obamacare is on the ballot” as Senate Republicans rush through President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee in time to seat her before the court hears oral arguments in the Trump-backed lawsuit to overturn the entire ACA just one week after Election Day. 

Desperate GOP Senate incumbents candidates are now telling voters “don’t worry about the ACA” as its fate rests with the Supreme Court despite having “spent the past decade trying to eradicate the 2010 law.” Republicans’ “empty promises” on health care – not a single Republican senator or candidate has articulated a plan that would keep pre-existing conditions protections intact if their party’s lawsuit succeeds in overturning the ACA – shows why health care remains a massive “political liability” for the GOP that “could help determine control of the Senate.”

The latest coverage shows how Senate Republicans’ toxic health care records are a huge liability they’re struggling to defend with less than three weeks to go:

HuffPost: GOP Hoping Empty Health Care Rhetoric Can Save Their Senate Majority

By Jonathan Cohn

Key Points:

  • [John] James has also run into a familiar political problem for Republicans. Back in 2017, he called for repealing the Affordable Care Act, describing the law as a “monstrosity.” Now he is under attack for trying to take away the law’s protections for people with preexisting conditions. 
  • In response, James has adopted a strategy Republicans around the country have used. In a widely circulating television advertisement and in interviews with local journalists, James has cited a family member’s medical problems ― specifically, his son’s asthma ― as proof that he would always look out for people with preexisting conditions.
  • The reality is that Republicans have never produced alternatives to “Obamacare” that live up to their lofty rhetoric. They didn’t in 2017 and they aren’t now.
  • Now its control of the Senate in doubt, and the Affordable Care Act is a top issue again, thanks in part to a new lawsuit challenging its constitutionality that the Supreme Court is expected to hear in November ― quite possibly, with Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett in the seat that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once occupied. 
  • If the court decides to throw out the Affordable Care Act, even in part, devising a replacement will fall to whoever is in the White House and whoever is running Congress. In other words, a lot would depend on who wins in November and what they are prepared to do.
  • In Colorado, an ad for Sen. Cory Gardner, who also supported repeal legislation, showcases his mother, a cancer survivor. Then he promises to protect people with preexisting conditions “no matter what happens to Obamacare.” Gardner has justified that claim by pointing to the “Pre-existing Conditions Protection Act,” a bill he sponsored. But the entire legislation is barely 100 words long and is basically just a slogan, as multiple analysts pointed out.
  • “It’s an adorable little bill but does not address any of the main issues,” Linda Blumberg, a fellow at the Urban Institute, told Kaiser Health News. “You need a package of policies working together in order to create real protections for people to have coverage to meet their health care needs.” 
  • But when the Detroit Free Press editorial board pushed James for details on how he would do that, he said he’s “not a healthcare expert” and that he’d rely on “experts” to work out a “market-based solution.” The Free Press ultimately endorsed Peters.
  • And in that WZZM interview, James dodged questions for a full 10 minutes while correspondent Nick LaFave repeatedly (and admirably) tried to get him to offer something, anything, resembling a specific proposal. The most James would say is that he thought more transparency about hospital prices would bring down prices through competition and that “I believe the decision-making should go to the people, not the federal government.”

Axios: Republicans’ Supreme Court message: Don’t worry about the ACA

By Sam Baker

Key Points:

  • The big picture: After promising for 10 years to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, and with a lawsuit pending at the Supreme Court that could do exactly that, Republicans are making a new argument: c’mon, nobody’s getting rid of the Affordable Care Act.
  • Between the lines: The ACA is on the chopping block yet again at the Supreme Court.
  • What they’re saying: “Nobody believes the Supreme Court is going to strike down the Affordable Care Act,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said during a debate Monday night in Kentucky.
  • Reality check: Republican attorneys general and the Trump administration are asking the Supreme Court to strike down the entire law, and will make that case in oral arguments on Nov. 10.
  • But any time the Justice Department takes a position before the Supreme Court, that position is worth taking seriously. And in this case the Justice Department is telling the court to strike down the whole law, including its protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
  • What’s next: Republicans have never released a plan to replace the ACA’s consumer protections, should they finally kill it, whether they still want to or not.

The Hill: Republicans: Supreme Court won’t toss ObamaCare

By Peter Sullivan

Key Points:

  • Senate Republicans are downplaying the chances that the Supreme Court will strike down ObamaCare as Democrats seek to hammer the GOP on the issue ahead of the elections.
  • As Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett testifies this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats are drilling in on a Republican-backed lawsuit seeking to strike down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that the high court will hear one week after Election Day.
  • If the lawsuit succeeds, roughly 20 million people would lose health insurance, and popular protections for people with preexisting conditions would be thrown out.
  • But Republicans — who have spent the past decade trying to eradicate the 2010 law — are dismissing this possibility. They argue that Democrats are blowing the chances of the challenge prevailing out of proportion, noting that legal experts across the spectrum have called the lawsuit’s arguments weak.
  • “No one believes the Supreme Court is going to strike down the Affordable Care Act,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday night during his reelection debate with Democrat Amy McGrath.
  • The Republicans’ effort to downplay a challenge to the ACA is striking given their criticism of the Supreme Court’s prior rulings on the controversial law and their legislative moves to repeal it.
  • But at the same time, congressional Republicans are not directly saying that they oppose the lawsuit, which would mean breaking from President Trump, whose administration is in court in support of the challenge. The lawsuit was brought by 18 Republican state attorneys general.
  • A McConnell spokesman said he did not want to go beyond the majority leader’s comments at the debate when asked whether McConnell opposes the lawsuit.
  • Earlier this month, most Republicans rejected a motion to advance a bill that would protect ObamaCare from the Supreme Court challenge. Five of the six Republicans who defected are running for reelection next month.
  • That Republicans are looking to downplay the challenge to ObamaCare, though, is an illustration of the shifting politics of the law. The ACA has risen in popularity under the Trump administration and amid efforts to repeal the law in 2017. Its protections for people with preexisting conditions have become so untouchable that Republicans are straining through ads to say they support that part of the law, despite their previous votes to repeal the ACA.

New York Times: G.O.P. Senators Have a Lot to Say in Ads, but Not Much About Trump

By Nick Corasaniti

Key Points:

  • Over the past week, incumbent Republican senators facing tough re-election fights in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana, North Carolina and South Carolina have run a combined total of 48 television ads, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm. None of them mention President Trump.
  • So, what are they pitching to voters? We’re glad you asked. It’s very different from state to state, though there is a lot of talk about pre-existing conditions.
  • Senator Martha McSally of Arizona has put seven ads on the air over the past week, but by far her most-aired ad is one in which she says she has “always supported protecting anyone with a pre-existing condition, and I always will.” She has spent more than $1.1 million on the ad over the past week. It’s an attempt to rebut attacks from her Democratic opponent, Mark Kelly, that the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act would lead to the loss of health insurance coverage for millions of people with pre-existing medical conditions. But the only national law that protects people with pre-existing conditions is the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and Ms. McSally voted to repeal it. (The Cook Political Report rates this race as “Lean Democrat.”)
  • Senator Steve Daines of Montana is running an ad that is very similar to Ms. McSally’s. In the same direct-to-camera style, he claims that his opponent, Gov. Steve Bullock, is falsely characterizing his vote to repeal the A.C.A. as an attack on pre-existing conditions. Mr. Daines, whose campaign has spent $307,000 on the ad over the past week, says he has “always fought to protect Montanans with pre-existing conditions, and I always will.” But like Ms. McSally, he offers no explanation of how or where that support has come from, and instead offers a broad-brush attack on the A.C.A. (Cook rating: Tossup.)

Washington Post: Analysis | Another clunker: John Cornyn’s ad on preexisting conditions

By Salvador Rizzo

Key Points:

  • Three years ago, Cornyn was the “chief salesman” of the Republican effort to undo the Affordable Care Act.
  • In a new campaign ad, Cornyn says one of the law’s central features, its guarantee that insurers must sell plans to any patients with preexisting conditions, “is something we all agree should be covered.”
  • But Cornyn continues to oppose the Affordable Care Act, and his campaign would not say whether he backs a Republican lawsuit seeking to strike down the entire law at the Supreme Court.
  • If the ACA were to fall, the legislation Cornyn proposes as a replacement to cover those with preexisting conditions says “nothing … shall be construed to restrict the amount that an employer or individual may be charged for coverage under a group health plan.” Charge them whatever price, it says.
  • Experts say this arrangement would leave tens of millions of Americans with preexisting conditions at risk and possibly facing unaffordable rates for insurance. That’s why we’ve previously described the GOP proposal Cornyn supports as a “car without an engine.”
  • “Asked if he wanted to see the lawsuit succeed, Cornyn did not say,” according to an article last month in the Texas Tribune. We asked the Cornyn campaign the same question and did not get an answer.
  • On his campaign website, Cornyn says, “Our health care system is broken, but Obamacare — with its unattainable costs, job-killing policies and intrusion between a patient and their doctor — isn’t the answer.”
  • Cornyn recently tweeted, “The left, including Joe Biden in Tuesday’s debate, overstates the problem of preexisting conditions to justify political control of health care.” He linked to a Wall Street Journal editorial (“Pre-Existing Condition Fiction”), which said “a mere 2.7% of an estimated roughly 130 million people with preexisting conditions gained access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.”
  • The Cornyn campaign website says the third-term senator “supports a plan that protects those with preexisting conditions” but doesn’t mention any legislation that would accomplish this.
  • In response to our questions, a spokesman for the Cornyn campaign mentioned the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, one of the unsuccessful proposals to repeal and replace the ACA.
  • It would have weakened legal protections for patients with preexisting conditions because insurers selling plans on the individual market would have been able to deny coverage or charge more based on health status.
  • Cornyn has been silent on the lawsuit, but his Senate record speaks for itself: numerous votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act or replace it with weaker tea; a pair of proposals that could saddle sick patients with higher, and possibly prohibitive, costs; and voting against a measure just last month that would have barred the Justice Department from arguing to strike down the entire health-care law in court.
  • Cornyn earns Four Pinocchios.

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