Republicans are facing a new public relations war in their effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. The GOP Congress has repeatedly approved legislation to repeal ObamaCare, but those proposals went nowhere with President Obama in the White House. Now that Republicans also hold the White House, the challenge for the GOP is taking the long-promised action in a way that won’t backfire politically. And that’s turning out to be harder than many anticipated.
Polls show the public is divided on whether to repeal ObamaCare, which doesn’t make the task of unraveling one of the largest social programs passed in recent history any easier.
Republicans say the key to winning the public relations battle is for their party to highlight the weaknesses of ObamaCare, a law even most Democrats admit could improve from legislative changes.
“I think the thing that, simply from a Republican standpoint, is to point out it’s a failing system,” said GOP Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who pointed to rising insurance premiums and fewer choices for consumers as significant problems that will spur public support for the GOP’s plans.
The GOP arguments are being made to a politically polarized population on edge after the 2016 presidential election. Democrats are doing everything they can to make it tougher for Republicans to take action on ObamaCare. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) says Republicans want to “Make America Sick Again,” playing off of President Trump’s campaign slogan. Other Democratic senators have said repealing ObamaCare will lead to the deaths of thousands of people.
Republicans have faced angry crowds at some town halls, where people have expressed their displeasure at possibly losing health benefits. While Republicans contend that much of the opposition at the local events is being ginned up by Democrats, it appears to have had an effect. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) tells upset constituents that Republicans are aware that repealing ObamaCare must result in a “much-improved health system.”
“We will be judged on our success in doing so,” he said.
A GOP aide to a congressman who faced a contentious town hall earlier this month said it’s about finding common ground.
“Even though they may disagree on the overall repeal of the ACA, he still believes it’s not sustainable…. From what he’s heard so far, I think he understands there is room for common ground and solutions.”
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been on a media blitz to paint ObamaCare as a disaster. But his efforts have been challenged by disunity on the GOP side. Some Republicans are now talking about repairing ObamaCare, while others are in more of a repeal or bust camp. The party still hasn’t coalesced around a replacement plan, which makes taking on Democrats tougher.
“Until everyone is on the same page, it’s very hard to combat a lot of those allegations,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist.
Republicans blew past a self-imposed January 27 deadline to have repeal legislation drafted. Leaked audio of Republicans speaking at their GOP conference highlighted differences within the party. If Republicans want to get, and keep public support as they try to repeal ObamaCare, they need to appear to be on the same page, said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak.
“Republican unity is crucial. Finding a bill that Susan Collins and Jim Jordan can support and agree on is difficult,” he said, referring to two Republicans who appear to be on the opposite side of their party.
Republicans believe they have a mandate to take action on ObamaCare. For evidence, just look at the election, they say.
Rep. Diane Black, who faced a fiery crowd at a townhall in Tennessee on Thursday night, doubled down on the Republican’s goal to repeal ObamaCare.
“While there were strong feelings at this forum, there is no mistaking the clear message Tennesseans sent last November at the ballot box when they sent Congressman Black and President Trump to Washington to repeal ObamaCare and put patients back in control of their healthcare choices,” her office said in a statement Friday.
“As a registered nurse, Congressman Black ran for office on a platform of providing relief from this disastrous law, and she is intent on keeping that pledge.”