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Is the GOP losing its flagship issue?

It’s not a hard prediction to make. The Republicans, as they face this year’s midterm elections, are in a good place. The House should remain firmly in GOP hands, and the Senate, could, though it’s not a given, flip to Republican control. It is, after all, an off-year election, and historically, the party not in the White House does well. Also, President Obama, for all practical purposes, has no coattails. He can raise money, but most Democrats who will be on the ballot this fall won’t be inviting him to their districts.

However, while that’s a sound prediction, all might not be as rosy for the Republicans as many in the GOP might have thought. They have their eyes on a big win. But, not so fast; the lay of the land definitely favors the GOP, but the one issue they hope to build a groundswell around may be fading. And they don’t seem to have anything to take its place.

Everything about the GOP campaign in 2014 is focused on the Affordable Care Act; or, Obamacare, as it’s called. Opposition to expansion of health care has been a Republican mantra for years now. They have become a one-issue party, and it’s served them well. Their big victory in 2010 was based on voter hostility to Obamacare. The issue even filtered down to state and local races. And just to make sure no one doubted the Republican Party’s position on this one, the House of Representatives voted over 40 times to repeal the act. Obsessive compulsive, I know, but it was hard to miss their meaning.

The problem is that the issue, opposition to the Affordable Healthcare Act, may be fading. It was bound to happen. The plan has become a part of the healthcare landscape and many Americans are finding out that it’s not as bad as they were led to believe. For instance, for years and years, almost anyone could be denied healthcare coverage, even if it was a part of their employee benefits, if they had a pre-existing condition. Almost anything qualified. Now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can’t do that. Also, under the Act, children up to age 26 can be covered under a parent’s healthcare plan. This makes a big difference to families whose kids are perhaps still in school, or haven’t found a job that has healthcare benefits yet. Many of these children are middle class, and oops, their parents often, or usually, vote Republican. That, perhaps, is a part of the equation the Republicans forgot about. Campaigning against either of these important changes to the healthcare system, if I were a candidate, is something I wouldn’t want to do.

But, let’s keep going. The ACA had a tough rollout. The Republicans tried every blocking maneuver imaginable. State regulators in GOP dominated states tried to make it difficult for people to sign up. And many states, where the Republicans were in charge, refused to set up the state exchanges requested by the law. Also, almost half the states refused to expand Medicaid to cover the taxpaying, working poor, who would have had trouble getting a plan. This, even in spite of the fact that the ACA required the federal government to cover the bill.

And yet, last week, the Administration reported that seven million Americans had signed up. Who were these people? They are young working people, students, middle-aged Americans, who worked in jobs where healthcare wasn’t available, and many were self-employed or small business people. The success of the ACA in reaching its initial goals has received good press. The government finally looked competent in the way it was running the program, and many in the GOP, at least at the local level, may be wondering if it’s still something to run against. Maybe the tide has changed.

Also, remarkably, overall healthcare costs, thanks to the ACA, have started to level off. Insurance companies, though still highly profitable, can’t make the same massive returns they used to (forgive me if I don’t shed a tear for one of the GOP’s biggest donors), and they have had to scale back on their massive overhead. Often, when the GOP gets riled up about Obamacare, they forget the failings and excesses of the system it was designed to improve.

Opposition to Obamacare was supposed to be the key to a massive Republican victory in the fall elections. The Republicans, thanks to favorable districts and administration fatigue, will probably still do well. But, if I were them, I would start looking for a new flagship issue.

—Reach David Kerr at
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