Mitch McConnell signals Obamacare will be on chopping block again if GOP retains control of Congress

"If we had the votes to completely start over, we'd do it . . ." the Senate majority leader says in a new interview

Published October 18, 2018 12:01PM (EDT)

Mitch McConnell (Getty/Zach Gibson)
Mitch McConnell (Getty/Zach Gibson)

Republicans could take another swing at eliminating the Affordable Care Act if they maintain control of Congress after the midterm elections this November, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday.

The majority leader's statement came in response to a question about what the Republican Party had accomplished since President Donald Trump assumed the Oval Office in January 2017 — and what issues were left unfinished.

He called the failure of Republicans in Congress to repeal the healthcare law, commonly known as Obamacare, the "one disappointment of this Congress from a Republican point of view," but hinted that Republicans have not given up — even after repeated attempts ended in failure.

"If we had the votes to completely start over, we'd do it," McConnell told Reuters in an interview. "But that depends on what happens in a couple weeks . . . We're not satisfied with the way Obamacare is working." Republicans remain hopeful that they will retain control of the Senate next month, although polls suggest that a blue wave is coming to the House.

Still, McConnell's comment that Republicans could soon revisit efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act is not surprising. The healthcare law has been under attack by Republicans since it was enacted by President Barack Obama in March 2010. The calls to repeal the ACA grew louder last year, however, when Trump entered the Oval Office and the Republican Party finally controlled both the White House and Congress.

The GOP came closest to making their goal a reality in July 2017 — two months after the House had passed repeal legislation — when then-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) famously gave a late-night thumbs-down vote to the Senate's version of the bill, providing a pivotal "no" vote that halted his party's most promising effort to overturn the bill from becoming law. It was a vote that earned him regular — and biting — criticism from the president.

The Senate is a different place now: McCain has since passed away, a different Republican has taken his seat and the midterm elections this November could result in a major Senate leadership shakeup. Still, Vice President Mike Pence also indicated earlier this year that he would like to see Republicans take another stab at repealing and replacing Obamacare should Republicans prevail in the upcoming election.

Polls revealed that the GOP repeal and replace efforts proved to be unpopular and is now implicating the elections of House Republicans who supported the measure. This can be seen on the campaign trail, where Republican Senate candidates who fought to eliminate the Affordable Care Act and its protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions are now falsesly claiming, falsely, that they never tried to strike down the law's protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. In fact, some Republican candidates are now running on protecting coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions.

As HuffPost's John Cohn notes, "The stakes in this fight are enormous. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid, subsidies for people buying private insurance, and prohibitions on discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, the number of people without health insurance has plunged to historic lows. Studies have shown that, as a result, people are struggling less with medical bills and have better access to care."

But, Cohn added, "Some people are paying more for insurance than they otherwise would and, in some states, prices have gone so high that people paying entirely on their own ― without the benefit of federal tax credits ― are finding insurance flat-out unaffordable. Even Democrats concede that this represents one of the Affordable Care Act's failings."

While the future of the Affordable Care Act remains uncertain, one thing is clear: Health care could be a winning issue on Nov. 6. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, half of all Democratic ads are focused on health care. Sixty-three percent of voters say a candidate's position on pre-existing condition protections are the "single most important factor" or "very important" to them this November. In a Fox News poll published last month, half of voters said that Democrats would do a better job on health care, compared to just 34 percent who preferred Republicans on the issue.

By Shira Tarlo

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