Updated at 3:57pm ET Conservatives' surprise and anger over Thursday's Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act are still sinking in, but they’re turning to the work of transforming defeat in the courtroom on Thursday into victory at the ballot box on Election Day.
In Senate and House races from North Dakota to New Hampshire, Republicans are or soon will be using Democratic candidates’ support for the ACA as a motivator to get conservatives to vote.
More than six million Texas residents are uninsured and many state representatives insist the President's health care reform is not the solution. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, discusses.
“I know many of you are angry about the Supreme Court's decision to uphold Obamacare,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, R- S.C., in a fund-raising e-mail to supporters of his Senate Conservatives Fund. “I am too. We're now living in a post-constitutional era that is destroying our country.”
But he said in the wake of Thursday’s decision, “there is only one solution to our government's unchecked power: win elections.”
Rep. Phil Gingrey, R- Ga., told reporters Friday, “I want to say to our base in the Republican Party: Get even more active than you’ve been. Get out and vote and take your friends with you. Because this train is leaving the station and there’s not going to be another opportunity. If Barack Obama is re-elected to a second term and we don’t replace him with the 45th president then this law sinks in, it gets roots and it ain’t going away.”
In a more neutral tone, Chief Justice John Roberts had a similar message in his decision Thursday: If you’re unhappy with a decision made by Congress or the president, vote.
Roberts reminded Americans that -- unlike Roberts himself -- elected officials “can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them.”
Roberts’s decision may have the effect of helping the Republican message machine by re-framing the insurance purchase mandate as a tax increase. As Roberts put it in his decision, going without insurance will now be “just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income.” The Republican anti-tax message isn’t new, but it does appeal to most loyal base voters, some of whom did not bother to turn out for John McCain in 2008.
It remains to be seen in races from New Hampshire’s Second Congressional district to Montana’s Senate race whether support for “Obamacare” is going to help or hurt Democrats.
On the House side, one might think that any Democrat who was going to lose his or her seat due to a vote for the ACA would have already been defeated in the 2010 election massacre.
More than a dozen Democrats in Republican-leaning districts went down to defeat in 2010 due in part for the vote for “Obamacare,” from John Spratt in South Carolina to John Salazar in Colorado.
There are seven Democrats who voted for the ACA lost their seats in 2010 and are now trying a comeback, including Dan Maffei in New York and Alan Grayson in Florida
“Democrats got booted out of office in 2010 for their support of ObamaCare, and now they’re out taking self-congratulatory victory laps, said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Nat Sillin. “Voting for ObamaCare ended their congressional careers and it’s going to sink their chances at a comeback.”
But Sillin said there could be a few potential comeback stories out there: for one, the district Maffei is now running in has become more Democratic due to redistricting.
The NRCC is launching a website and campaign next week focusing on ten vulnerable Democrats – both incumbents and former members who voted for and support the ACA who are running in competitive districts where the NRCC believes support for the law could scuttle their candidacy.
One hears counter arguments from Democrats who say voters are now more aware of the ACA’s benefits than were in 2010.
Rep. David Loebsack, D-Iowa, whose district is less Democratic after redistricting than it was in 2010, faces a more competitive race than he did two years ago.
Loebsack said he can’t predict what effect the Supreme Court decision will have on his race.
“What I’m going to do, and what I did last time, is talking about the things that people in the district are telling me they like about it: things such as children age 26 and below staying on their parents’ insurance,” Loebsack said. “There are a lot of seniors in Iowa and that (prescription drug) donut hole is getting closed; I go to a lot of senior centers and they’re very appreciative of that.”
Democratic Congressional Campaign Commitee spokesman Jesse Ferguson said that House Republicans were "trying to put their insurance company campaign donors back in charge of health care at the expense of consumer protections for the middle class but the American people won't stand for it."
He said "Republicans will pay a big political price for spending 18 months choosing obstruction and extremism to protect insurance companies instead of consumers and millionaires instead of Medicare."
Sen. Jon Tester, D- Montana, whose re-election fight with Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg is rated as a toss-up by the non-partisan Cook Political Report, said Thursday’s Supreme Court affirmation of the ACA would not have much effect on his race.
“I don’t think anything changes much, other than there’s more surety about how we’re moving forward, which I think is positive,” Tester said. “It’s still about holding insurance companies accountable, about making sure folks with pre-existing conditions can get insurance, and folks who get sick don’t get thrown off because of lifetime caps.”
But Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for the conservative group American Crossroads, argued in an e-mail Thursday that “Obamacare is no longer an abstraction..... Obamacare is now a real, concrete, tax-hiking and regulatory-expanding law that will or will not be repealed in January 2013 – depending on the outcome of the 2012 elections.”
Collegio singled out Rep. Joe Donnelly, D- Ind., who is running against Republican Richard Mourdock for the Indiana Senate seat now held by Sen. Richard Lugar.
Collegio said that in his 2010 House campaign, “Donnelly had to defend a vote on Obamacare that he took eight months earlier – which was on the books, but which folks were moving past. This year, Democrats like Donnelly must defend voting for the legislation and its massive tax hikes again – with an election between now and the vote for repeal. For Indiana voters, a vote for Joe Donnelly will literally become a vote for Obamacare.”
Donnelly said in a statement Friday that in the wake of the high court’s decision, “Hoosiers will be pleased to learn that many positive aspects of this law, such as lower prescription drug costs for seniors, making sure people cannot be dropped by insurance companies if they get sick, and making healthcare more affordable and accessible, remain law. Yet this law is far from perfect, and I will work with both parties to improve it and protect Medicare.”
He added that Mourdock’s “only unique contribution to the debate on lowering healthcare costs has been to suggest that employers could choose not to offer cancer treatment coverage to their employees.”
For Republicans, as they focus voters on the reality of the ACA, there may be a few dissonant notes in their message:
- A law which many Republicans characterized as an oppressive Obama over-reach has now in large part been given the seal of approval by the nation’s highest-ranking conservative jurist.
- For many taxpayers, especially those with incomes below $250,000, the direct impact of the tax part of the law doesn’t begin in 2015 which is when those refusing to purchase insurance must start to pay the penalty (or tax). And unless Congress changes the law that tax penalty is not really so painful. As Roberts said in his decision, “for most Americans the amount due will be far less than the price of insurance.”
- The tax on so-called “Cadillac” health care plans, which would likely be unpopular, doesn’t take effect until 2018 and some Democrats who voted for the ACA have said they will try to weaken, postpone or kill that tax.
Even in the best-case Election Day scenario for Senate Republicans they won’t have 60 seats in 2013, and thus won’t be able to fully repeal the ACA. But they could do a lot of damage to the law under the budget reconciliation process which requires only 51 votes in the Senate. Mitt Romney would have to be president to sign that reconciliation bill into law.