By Tom Elias
For the last seven years, most of the 14 Republicans representing parts of California in Congress railed against Obamacare, high corporate taxes and illegal immigration.
But that was mere chatter. So long as a Democrat was president, nothing new was going to happen. And so, even though Obamacare policy holders, illegal immigrants and poor people abound in many of their districts, their talk never cost them much. That could change soon.
For Republican Donald Trump controls the White House today and pushes constantly on those issues. He makes GOP congressional talk more than mere noise. What was empty rhetoric now can become reality. This was never more clear than when all 14 California Republicans voted to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare’s formal name, and replace it with far inferior health insurance.
Example A might be Jeff Denham of Atwater, whose 10th District contains a large Latino populace and about 100,000 persons whose health insurance comes via Obamacare. Denham won reelection last year by 51.7 – 48.3 percent over Democratic farmer Michael Eggman, the winning margin fully 70 percent below its 2014 level.
In a town hall in his district about two weeks before the Obamacare vote, Denham assured more than 1,000 constituents that “I’m a ‘no’ on the healthcare bill until it is responsive to my community.”
Turning him around was a last-minute amendment to create high-risk pools for persons with pre-existing conditions and provide $8 billion over five years to subsidize premiums a bit for this type of coverage, whose premiums have always been sky-high. At the same time, the bill takes at least $800 billion from Medicaid (known here as Medi-Cal) over 10 years.
Medi-Cal covers about more 300,000 Denham constituents, many among the estimated 24 million persons likely to lose coverage under the Republican plan. Will those people brand him a liar and turn out next year to dump him? No one can predict.
The healthcare bill passed the House by a narrow 217-213 margin, so if even two California Republicans had voted no, it would have failed. In Denham’s district, no one but him has claimed publicly that the $8 billion amendment (less than $200 million yearly to California) made it “responsive to my community.”
Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco declaimed after the vote that “This vote…is a scar (Republicans) will carry.” But Democrats have been notably ineffective at unseating Denham and other Republicans from similar districts. David Valadao of Hanford is one: His Latino-majority district went for Hillary Clinton by 15 percent last year, but he still won by 9 percent. With many thousands of his constituents likely to lose coverage if the GOP changes become reality, can he survive? A lot depends on Latino turnout, notoriously unreliable. Both Valadao and Santa Clarita’s vulnerable-seeming Steve Knight criticized the Medicaid cuts, which could hurt tens of thousands in their districts, but still voted for them.
The Orange County district of Republican Mimi Walters may also be in play. With fewer Obamacare recipients than many other areas, her district still went for Clinton last year. She ardently backed the GOP changes, celebrating the House vote with Trump at the White House. Will that be political suicide?
Another Rose Garden celebrant was San Diego County’s Darrell Issa, whose vote at almost the last moment may have been decisive. Issa, his fate in question for weeks after last year’s election, survived then by just 1,600 votes. He acted unworried after this vote.
“Today…gives a voice to the victims of Obamacare…a failure from the get-go,” Issa said. But he kept his position secret until the last moment, refusing to reveal it until he actually pulled the lever. Would Issa have voted against the repeal or abstained if his vote had not been crucial for passage? Was he promised something for his vote?
Those questions may go unanswered, but it’s for sure Democrats will use that vote against Issa next year. Uncertain, of course, is whether it will work.
That’s the question about all the Democrats’ loud ventilating over the healthcare vote. Their talk will only matter if they can make this bill an albatross around Republican necks and oust enough GOPers to retake control of the House.