It is hard to overestimate the role of the Affordable Care Act in the Republican resurgence.
Over the last seven years, the GOP has won successive elections by highlighting problems with Obamacare, airing more than $235 million in negative ads slamming the law, and staging more than 50 high-profile repeal votes. In 2016 every major Republican presidential candidate, including Donald Trump, campaigned on a pledge to quickly get rid of it.
Now in total control of Congress and the White House, some GOP legislators are saying that the political assault on Obamacare was an exercise in cynical politics, and that an outright repeal was never on the table.
“We have Republicans who do not want to repeal Obamacare,” said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., on Sirius XM Patriot on Wednesday.
“They may have campaigned that way, they may have voted that way a couple of years ago when it didn’t make any difference,” Brooks continued. “But now that it makes a difference, there seems to not be the majority support that we need to pass legislation that we passed 50 or 60 times over five or six years.”
Listen to Rep. Brooks’s comments below:
Likewise, Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., one of the lawmakers who came into power by riding the anti-ACA Tea Party wave in 2010, and who once elected pledged to “repeal, defund, delay, and dismantle Obamacare,” recently conceded in a candid interview with the Delaware County Daily Times that previous repeal efforts were a sham.
Asked if the years of votes against the ACA were simply “ceremonial,” since Republicans knew that any serious repeal bill would be vetoed by President Barack Obama, Meehan responded “yes.”
“I don’t think anyone would quarrel with the idea that they were largely position votes,” Meehan continued. “They were as political as they were anything else because there was a recognition that those were unlikely to be moved.”
Republicans expected Hillary Clinton to win the election last year, and had not planned for being in a position to actually pass a repeal effort this year, said Meehan. But after Trump’s victory, the GOP leadership thought something had to be done on their campaign promises, and that’s why they attempted to move forward with the American Health Care Act.
Listen to Rep. Meehan’s comments below:
Other Republican lawmakers have made similar remarks in recent days.
“You know, I think maybe its easier to run on these platitudes, run on a platform like this,” said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., when asked by local radio station News Talk 1290 if Republicans ran on repeal “simply to get elected or re-elected.”
Bacon, admitting that he supports provisions of the law, including coverage for pre-existing conditions, noted that governing can be very different from campaigning. “Sometimes things sound easier when you’re running,” Bacon added.
Another candid comment came from Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who told reporters last Friday that the dozens of repeal votes were cast in the past without any plan for viable legislation.
“Sometimes you’re playing fantasy football and sometimes you’re in the real game,” Barton told Talking Points Memo.
“We knew the president, if we could get a repeal bill to his desk, would almost certainly veto it. This time we knew if it got to the president’s desk it would be signed.”
Even House Speaker Paul Ryan, shortly after his legislation to overhaul the health care system was pulled from a vote, said that Republicans weren’t ready to meet promises on repealing and replacing Obamacare — an implicit concession that previous repeal votes were merely symbolic.
“We were a 10-year opposition party, where being against things was easy to do,” Ryan said, adding that his party wasn’t prepared to be the “governing party.”
“We will get there,” Ryan added, “but we weren’t there today.”
After the defeat of Ryan’s legislation last week, the speaker called Obamacare the “law of the land” that will remain “for the foreseeable future.”
Following the embarrassing admission, conservative donors and some White House officials have mounted a campaign to revive a repeal effort, though there are few details about the type of repeal effort would muster support among the hard-right conservatives and moderates who sank the last attempt.