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Republicans tread carefully following Trump’s anti-ACA offensive

Are Republicans on board with Donald Trump's newfound crusade against the Affordable Care Act? For now, the GOP is treading carefully.

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Donald Trump apparently saw a Wall Street Journal op-ed about the Affordable Care Act over the weekend, which ended up jolting the 2024 presidential race in an unexpected way. It started with this message the former president published to his social media platform, telling Americans that he’s “seriously looking at alternatives” to Obamacare.

He went on to complain about Republican senators who failed to “terminate” the ACA in 2017, concluding, “[B]ut we should never give up!”

Democrats, mindful of their public advantage on health care, pounced on the opportunity. For unexplained reasons, Trump made matters a little easier for his opponents with follow-up missives in which he attacked the reform law in even more explicit terms.

What are congressional Republicans saying about all of this? Politico reported:

Former President Donald Trump’s renewed push to scrap Obamacare if he returns to the White House is falling flat with the Senate Republicans who’d have to pass it. The GOP conference is still scarred from its 2017 attempt with Trump to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which failed on the Senate floor.

The article added that Trump’s offensive against the ACA “didn’t exactly thrill GOP senators.”

“I don’t see that as being the rallying cry,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said. “I really don’t.” Sen. Chuck Grassley added, “I don’t hear any Republicans talking about it.”

For his part, Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota said, “Boy, I haven’t thought about that one in a while. I just don’t know what [Trump’s] thinking or how we would go about doing that. That fight, as you know, was six years ago now. And so, if he’s got some ideas, we’re open to them.”

As a political matter, the response is understandable. As we discussed earlier in the week, the Republicans’ 2017 effort to tear down the ACA was a disaster for the party, which Democrats exploited to help take back the House majority in the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats would love to have that fight again in 2024, and it stands to reason that GOP officials want the opposite.

As for whether Trump has come up with credible actual health care ideas for the first time, the party should probably keep its expectations low. A Republican close to the Trump campaign told Politico, “There’s not a real ‘there’ there. No one’s working on this.”

Team Trump isn’t actually working on substantive policy proposals? Imagine that.

But before health care advocates breathe easy, there are some in the GOP who’ve left the door open to going after the Affordable Care Act yet again. Axios reported overnight:

Republican lawmakers may not be thrilled with former President Trump’s renewed push to repeal and replace Obamacare — but few are firmly ruling it out. ... A fresh repeal effort could be just as perilous, but Trump’s continued fixation with the law could put pressure on Republican lawmakers to make another run at it if the GOP gains full control of Washington next year.

The article quoted Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas saying, “I think Obamacare has been one of the biggest deceptions on the American people. I mean just look at your health care premiums.” (Premium costs, in reality, have gone down, not up.)

Axios’ report added that Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, who’d likely take over the Senate Finance Committee if the GOP retakes control of the chamber, also said he’s open to repeal-and-replace plans.

In other words, the stage is set for a fight Democrats are desperate to have. Up until very recently, few expected the 2024 cycle to focus on health care. That’s changed in a hurry.

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