Politics

08.20.13

Anti-Obamacare Rage, Once a GOP Hit, Fizzles Despite Town Halls

Heritage Action may be launching town halls against the health-care law, but the rage that fueled the Tea Party wave has died down—and even Republicans are starting to walk away, says Jamelle Bouie.

Tea Party Republicans had a huge hit with their rage against Obamacare. It gave them control of the House of Representatives in 2010, fueled their anti-spending crusade in 2011, inspired the most vocal of the GOP presidential candidates, and elevated a host of right-wing politicians to the Senate, providing a national platform for the crusade against the so-called government takeover of health care.

Hits aren’t built to last, however, and after a while, this one began to fizzle. Mitt Romney’s constant attacks on Obamacare did little to help his White House campaign, and few Republican Senate candidates gained from their pledge to kill it. Those who did, like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, were playing to a small audience of devoted fans who just wanted more of the same.

The magic has fizzled so much that some Republicans have begun to walk away from the project altogether, even as others work to turn Obamacare funding into cause for a government shutdown.

“Next to impossible,” said Tea Party favorite Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), when asked about the odds of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) said much the same thing last month: “Listen, as long as Barack Obama is president, the Affordable Care Act is going to be law.” And even Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the closest thing to a Tea Party avatar, has voiced skepticism that the law can be stopped. Asked by Fox News’s Sean Hannity about his support for the “defunding” strategy proposed by Senate conservatives, Paul said that while he supports it, he “may not be able to guarantee victory.”

None of that has deterred Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who are the main advocates behind the “defund” strategy. Nor has it stopped House Republicans from floating Obamacare repeal as a condition for lifting the debt ceiling this fall, despite the odd timing of the demand. By the time Congress needs to lift the debt limit, the federal health-care exchanges would have already gone online.

Cruz, indeed, will have a starring role at an upcoming rally against the Affordable Care Act organized by Heritage Action, the activist wing of the Heritage Foundation. Heritage is holding anti-Obamacare town halls in nine cities across the country, beginning Tuesday in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The destinations include Dallas, where Cruz will be speaking; Tampa; Nashville; Birmingham, Alabama; Indianapolis; Pittsburgh; and Wilmington, Delaware. Explaining the tour, Heritage Action’s Michael Needham said the goal is to “make sure lawmakers understand the American people expect them to defund Obamacare in its entirety.” Likewise, in a statement, Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint said, “We want to hear directly from people in local communities who often suffer from Washington’s out-of-touch policies.”

DeMint might have Cruz to rally the troops against Obamacare in Dallas, but Obama has a mayor who is ready and willing to help him meet his goals for the law.

Several of those local communities, however, aren’t interested in DeMint’s rage against Obamacare. In Dallas, for instance, Mayor Mike Rawlings is actively working to help uninsured residents take advantage of the health-care overhaul, which goes “online” at the beginning of October. And a spokesperson for Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), who represents Birmingham, confirms that she will be working with local and federal authorities to assist uninsured residents in utilizing the health-care exchanges. Indeed, her district has received more than $1.2 million in grants meant to facilitate “navigator” programs, to be used to provide “in-person assistance” to Alabamans who need help enrolling in the exchanges.

As for cities like Pittsburgh and Wilmington? They’re in blue areas of blue states where support for Obamacare is likely, if not a given. Nashville, Tampa, and Indianapolis are all in red states—or, in the cases of Indiana and Florida, occasional blue ones—but they’re represented by members of Congress who supported the law. Heritage Action may find decent-size crowds in each of these cities, but they won’t be representative. Most likely, they’ll be dominated by the minority of residents in each area who oppose Obamacare.

There’s one last thing worth noting. Yes, only half the nation’s governors have signed on to the Medicaid expansion, and yes, several parts of Obamacare have been delayed for technical reasons. Nonetheless, according to a July briefing from White House officials, the administration is optimistic about meeting its enrollment goals for the first year (7 million enrollees by next March, of whom 40 percent are between 18 and 35). Why? Because a significant portion of the uninsured are young people—19 million out of a total population of 40 million—and a third of those live in three states: California, Florida, and Texas.

As conservatives travel to the latter two states, seeking to generate new anger for their assault on the health-care law, the Obama administration is investing much more time and dramatically more resources to sell the law and its benefits. What’s more, it has a wide target. By enrolling just a plurality of uninsured young people in those three states, the administration meets one of its key goals for implementation. DeMint might have Cruz to rally the troops against Obamacare in Dallas, but Obama has a mayor who is ready and willing to help him meet his goals for the law.

Heritage, then, can play as many of the old tunes as it likes. When October 1 comes, the Affordable Care Act will be there, ready to confer benefits, provide security, and begin the slow transformation of American health care.