Two Big Roadblocks to Republican Victory in 2016
Two of the pillars of conservative Republicanism are crumbling just as the party is preparing for the presidential election. Obamacare, the object of Republican hatred for more than half a decade, is becoming more entrenched and popular. And a wide range of Americans solidly supports same-sex marriage, which the right despises.
So what’s a right-wing Republican to do? Pray? Or hope for a game-saving break from the party’s court of last resort, the U.S. Supreme Court?
This change in the political dynamic has gone somewhat unnoticed while the national political press has been chasing hotter stories, such as the attempt to dismember Hillary Clinton and the rise of the right’s new darling, Sen. Marco Rubio.
The best example of the Republican dilemma is Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Late in June, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on a potentially deadly challenge to the law.
Obamacare offers insurance through marketplaces known as exchanges. Those who buy policies through exchanges are entitled to subsidies if their income is low enough. A number of states set up their own exchanges. But 34 states, where opposition to the ACA is intense, did not. In those cases, the federal government moved in with its own exchange, offering subsidies for low-income Americans. People can also buy directly from insurance companies and are eligible for Obamacare subsidies if the policies provide the full coverage required by the ACA.
Opponents, a collection of conservative lawyers and think-tank types, want to close down the federal exchanges—which would, in effect, shut down all Obamacare. They say that the law limits subsidies to exchanges established by the state. They based this conclusion on a shaky interpretation of the act’s wording: Subsidies are available to people enrolled “through an exchange established by the state.” Reading this as a limit, opponents say subsidies are not available to those who bought policies through a federal exchange.
Without the subsidies, millions would drop their insurance, including the young and healthy, leaving the insurance market to those in poor health. The provision mandating that everyone—healthy and sick—have health insurance would go. Premiums would rise.
While opposition to the law has energized the party’s conservative base, some influential Republicans are beginning to fear they may actually get what they wished for.
The truth is that Obamacare is becoming an inseparable part of American health care, eliminating longtime injustices, such as cases where people were dropped by insurance companies because of serious illness or instances where insurance ended with loss of a job.
Charles Gaba’s excellent website, ACASignups.net, which has tracked Obamacare from the beginning, shows the importance of the program. Checking state and federal figures, he estimates that 32.6 million people have policies under Obamacare, either purchasing them from federal or state exchanges or directly from companies. The enrollment figures include those on Medicaid and children’s health aid recipients. Of these, the website estimates, 9.32 million used the federal exchanges. Another source, The Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has a slightly lower figure for federal exchange users: 8.2 million. Still, that’s a lot of consumers in danger of losing subsidies. It means more than 8 million mad, frightened people as the 2016 election approaches.
And an April Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that Obamacare is now viewed favorably by 43 percent of Americans and disapproved of by 42 percent. “That’s the first time the law has been in positive territory since the last presidential election,” Greg Sargent wrote in The Washington Post. “More to the point, it’s the first time the law has been in positive territory since implementation of the law began and it suffered hideous roll-out problems. …”
“Chaos will result if people lose subsidies,” Judith Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told me. “They [Republicans] don’t want that to happen on their watch.”
One startling development is that Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, facing a tough race, has introduced legislation to extend the subsidies through August 2017 if the Supreme Court strikes them down. Joining him is one of Obamacare’s most strident foes, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with his four deputy leaders.
Reporter Noam N. Levey analyzed it this way in the Los Angeles Times: “After five years and more than 50 votes in Congress, the Republican campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act is essentially over … senior Republican lawmakers have quietly incorporated many of the law’s key protections into their own proposals, including guaranteeing coverage and providing government assistance to help consumers purchase insurance.”
Opposition to same-sex marriage is the second weapon the Republicans are counting on against the Democrats. Unfortunately for the Republicans, the issue resonates with a fairly narrow group—evangelical Christians—whose support is needed by GOP presidential candidates in two states important to winning the nomination: Iowa and South Carolina.Most of America doesn’t share their beliefs. A Washington Post-ABC poll showed that 61 percent of those surveyed support same-sex marriage while 35 percent oppose it. Republicans are opposed 63 percent to 34 percent. A total of 76 percent of Democrats support such marriages, as do 66 percent of independents. Support is weakest in the Midwest and South but still reaches 57 percent in both areas.
This is a huge change from a decade or so ago, when just 32 percent of those polled favored same-sex marriage, and the issue was credited with helping George Bush defeat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.
This week, the court will hear arguments in cases deciding whether the Constitution requires states to issue licenses for same-sex marriages and to recognize same-sex marriages from out of state. In June, the court is expected to announce its decision in the Obamacare case.
It’s the last stand for the two doctrines central to the theology of right-wing Republicanism. If the Republican conservatives lose the two cases in the Supreme Court, Obamacare will survive and same-sex marriage will be legal in every state. These two outcomes were considered unlikely just a few years ago. Now, even a Republican president would find it difficult, if not impossible, to undo such Supreme Court decisions.