It was the Republicans’ signature issue for so long, but now they don't want to talk about it. This election, they don't seem to want to talk about health care at all.
Remember Obamacare? The hated health-care reform that Republicans blasted for seven years as a job-killing nightmare that had to be slain before it ate the U.S. economy?
Of course you do. But strangely, they don’t.
“We are on a mission to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, vowed just last year. “It’s a rescue mission to save families and patients all across this country.”
That mission remains mostly unaccomplished (because the part about saving people was hooey). Obamacare is mostly intact, from its “job-killing” taxes to its insurance controls that caused such a fuss. Flaws and all, it’s actually providing subsidized health coverage to more Washington state families and patients today — nearly 800,000 — than when McMorris Rodgers said that the end was near, in March, 2017.
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Yet the entire debate has been disappeared down the Republican memory hole.
We have 10 congressional districts in Washington, with GOP candidates running November election campaigns in eight of them. On their campaign websites, only one — Jeffrey Beeler, Republican in the 1st District — still makes mention of getting rid of the Affordable Care Act.
Most of the rest not only pretend their seven-year crusade never happened, it’s as if the topic of health care itself is no longer up for public discussion.
Example: In the past few elections, Rep. Dan Newhouse, an incumbent Republican in the 4th District around the Tri-Cities, listed killing Obamacare as one of his top priorities. His past websites branded it “a failure,” blaming it for everything from “Medicare cuts, loss of doctors, and even job losses.” As long as he’s in Congress, he vowed, “I will fight to replace Obamacare with a health care plan that actually works.”
Not anymore — this year his campaign website has been scrubbed of all that. It doesn’t mention health-care reform at all.
Ditto McMorris Rodgers’ site. The ballyhooed rescue mission is no longer on the menu, nor is her calling it a “radical health care bill.” Neither is there any hint of what might be done about health care in the future if she’s re-elected.
Republicans even have a doctor running for Congress this year, Douglas Dightman, out in the 6th District on the Olympic Peninsula. But he doesn’t include health care as a topic, either.
In one of his two TV ads, Dightman, of Shelton, is wearing his doctor’s smock and offering “Dightman’s prescription” for the country. Oh, I thought, maybe here he’ll talk about pre-existing conditions or something.
Except Dightman’s Rx turns out to be conservative shtick. “I want to be your physician in Congress,” he says, “improving the circulatory system by lowering the fat in federal spending” and “treating its addiction to taxpayer dollars.”
Get it? In GOP-world, it’s only the government that’s ever diseased and needing radical surgery.
Now candidates can focus on whatever they wish. Clearly they are no longer on a mission — not after trying to repeal Obamacare’s taxes, subsidies and insurance controls for like the 60th time, and once again, failing. Republicans did cancel the individual mandate last year, but most of them aren’t talking about that.
But what’s surreal is that this GOP blackout on health comes at a time when voter interest is at a high. Recent polls show that what to do about health costs and coverage is either the biggest or second-biggest issue in the election.
Google just launched a new tool that charts political search trends by topic and location. It shows that health care right now is by far the most-searched election topic in every county in Washington state, except two (Franklin and Adams counties in Eastern Washington; both are more focused on immigration).
Or check out the poll just finished on the 8th District, from the Eastside suburbs to Wenatchee. It found voters roughly split on Obamacare. But it turns out the district, which has only ever elected Republicans, also favors a national insurance program by 11 percentage points, 52 to 41 percent. That goes beyond what most Democrats are proposing.
These are strange times. I don’t know what the right answers are on health care. But I’ve never seen such a gap between what the voters want to hear about, and what the candidates are offering.
Remember Obamacare? Remember the whole point of it — which was that we’re a first-world country with, for millions, third-world health care?
Seems like the GOP, after demagoguing the issue for years, is hoping everybody will just kind of forget.