- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2015

Democrats swiftly blasted Senate Republicans up for re-election in 10 states for voting to repeal Obamacare, saying it would “pull the rug out” from under thousands of people who are newly eligible for Medicaid coverage in their states.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said his “vote-a-rama” bids to loosen gun laws in the District of Columbia and beat back terrorism prove that he is a Republican presidential contender who will fight to bring “much-needed change” to Washington.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who must defend her seat next year, managed to knock the Affordable Care Act while trying to preserve the women’s health care services amid controversy over Planned Parenthood’s abortion practices.

Indeed, there was something for everyone in Republicans’ successful effort last week to finally dispatch a health care repeal bill to President Obama’s desk.

The fast-track legislation, which passed on a 52-47 vote near party lines, would dismantle Obamacare and strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood for one year in the wake of videos showing organization officials negotiating sales of fetal body parts, raising the stakes for Republican incumbents who might worry that women would have to scramble for non-abortion services.

Everyone knew the bill was doomed by Mr. Obama’s veto pledge and was purely a messaging vehicle ahead of pivotal elections.


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First and foremost, congressional Republicans can say they are battle-tested and ready to use the budget process known as “reconciliation” to scrap Obamacare on a majority vote in 2017 without having to overcome Democrat-led filibusters that have doomed every previous repeal effort.

They said they were fulfilling a pledge that they made to voters who handed them the keys to Congress in last year’s midterm elections and that Mr. Obama will have to defend a law that has been linked to rising premiums, high out-of-pocket costs and swiftly failing co-op plans.

But Democrats didn’t leave empty-handed. The budget process that brought the bill to passage allowed them to offer amendments, forcing Republican incumbents to take politically difficult positions on gun control and women’s health funding before they defend their seats in a presidential election year.

Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said, “Parties live to put candidates on record with controversial issues.

“That allows opponents to put out specific votes for campaign ads. That puts them on the defensive and have to explain those votes,” he said. “Candidates sometimes lose elections based on these issues.”

New Hampshire Democrats took a two-for-one swipe at Sen. Kelly Ayotte — a Republican running for re-election against Maggie Hassan, a Democrat and current governor — and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican running for president.

“This is a vote to take away health care coverage for more than 40,000 people in New Hampshire,” said former New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan.

Republicans say their measure simply winds down the coverage that had been extended to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, so it will have time to pass a replacement plan instead of dumping people off their coverage. Also, Ms. Ayotte was able to boast that the repeal bill included $1.5 billion to combat the opioid abuse epidemic that is affecting her state and others.

Analysts say there may be little political risk for Republicans who have taken shots at Mr. Obama’s health care law. Uninsured people are less likely to be registered voters, and those who suddenly gain coverage under Obamacare might not change their habits.

“It is a fair bet that in the short term the newly insured will behave politically much like the uninsured have: Many will not vote, and they will continue to represent a very small slice of the electorate,” Drew Altman, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Murkowski is walking a different kind of political tightrope. She joined Republican Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan M. Collins of Maine in trying to remove a part of the reconciliation bill that defunds Planned Parenthood. The senators said they feared women would have to scramble to find non-abortion services at other clinics.

That amendment failed, yet Ms. Murkowski still supported the underlying bill, citing the need to repeal Obamacare.

Others tried to burnish their credentials for a promotion to the White House.

Mr. Paul, one of Mr. Rubio’s competitors for the Republican nomination, tried to stop the U.S. from issuing visas to people from countries with high risks of terrorism. The amendment failed, 10 votes to 89.

His bid to override D.C. officials and set up a concealed carry program in the city failed to reach a 60-vote threshold, 54-45, but his campaign saw the silver lining in a contest that has been dominated by outsiders vowing to change the ways of Washington.

“There is a reason that most of America rightfully believes that politicians in Washington are out of touch. Tonight, we witnessed two common-sense pieces of legislation get defeated,” Mr. Paul said, arguing that his colleagues reinforced the status quo on homeland security and kept restrictive gun laws in place. “I will keep fighting to bring much-needed change to our legislative priorities and continue in my efforts to defeat the Washington machine.”

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