As Senate Republicans hem and haw over their apparent inability to come to agreement on how to live up to their campaign promises to repeal ObamaCare, the voters who gave them their majority are, quite rightly, beginning to wonder if those promises are worth the paper they’re printed on. Bewilderment reigns, and anger is not far off.
Campaign promises, as a general rule, are best when they can be taken literally - at face value. But when it comes to Senate Republicans’ campaign promises to repeal Obamacare in the 2014 and 2016 elections, voters have had to read the fine print and listen to endless excuses from the Republicans about why they simply can’t get the job done. Enough already.
Republicans owe their majority in the Senate to their Obamacare repeal pledges. (House Republicans, for that matter, also owe their sustained majority to the same.) Senate Republicans reclaimed the majority in the 2014 elections, after being in the minority since January of 2007, by winning a multitude of races the handicappers predicted would go the other way - netting a stunning nine-seat gain.
Simply put, Americans put their faith in the GOP and gave the party the majority in the Senate because of one simple issue - Obamacare repeal.
Republican candidates in 2014 were confident that Obamacare repeal was a winning issue. There were so confident, in fact, that they put their money where their mouths were and bought airtime to run ads with their Obamacare repeal pledges. A simple look at the TV campaign ads in 2014 reveals that Obamacare repeal dominated political ad campaigns. In one week alone (Oct. 13-19, 2014), nearly 12,000 anti-Obamacare ads ran in Senate campaigns. Obamacare repeal ads significant outpaced ads on jobs and the economy, international affairs, and taxes.
Obamacare repeal was, far and away, the single biggest campaign issue that year. Republicans’ political instincts proved correct, and the issue ultimately helped the GOP flip nine Senate seats from Democratic control to Republican in that election.
GOP candidates committed to gutting Obamacare “root and branch” were ubiquitous on the campaign trail. But today, two-and-a-half years into the Senate Republicans’ tenure in the majority, we only hear excuses about why they cannot deliver on their most significant campaign pledge.
Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who owes his chairmanship on the Senate Intelligence Committee to the Republicans’ majority, commented earlier this week that it is “unlikely” the Senate will pass a repeal bill. In other words, it’s “unlikely” that Republicans will get around to delivering on their single biggest campaign promise.
Echoing that pessimism is Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who said, “I think cobbling together a bill that could get 50 votes is going to be a challenge.” Such doom-and-gloom is depressing, especially from the party that was unequivocal about its intentions to raze the healthcare law before it became fully entrenched.
Perhaps the most telling quote is from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who told reporters, “I don’t think we can put it together among ourselves. I’ve always believed let Obamacare collapse … that has always been my preferred route.” The Graham doctrine on leadership could be summed up as: “Why do the hard work of actually leading, when you can just sit back and wait for nature to take its course eventually?”
Sometimes, what makes for good policy is not politically viable. Other times, issues that are great politically are a disaster in the policy realm. Obamacare repeal is one of those rare issues that is a homerun both politically and from a policy perspective. And that’s what makes it all the more perplexing that the GOP Establishment Senators are so utterly disinterested in making good on their campaign pledges.
Election victories are hard work, and they don’t happen solely because of the strength of the candidate’s own campaign. I know first-hand just how many Republicans would not be in the Senate today, had it not been for the tireless work of grassroots activists across the country helping to propel them to victory.
The significance of other issues may ebb and flow depending on the news cycle, but Obamacare repeal has remained - since the day it was signed into law in March of 2010! - an issue of paramount importance in the minds of conservative voters. Repealing Obamacare is the issue that has helped Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, the organization I chair, recruit more than a million volunteers. It is the single issue that inspired activists to knock on doors and convene rallies in snowstorms across the northeast and the Midwest during the past two election cycles. And it is, without question, the reason the GOP enjoys its majority in the Senate today.
Campaign promises should not be weighted down with fine print and exception clauses. The repeated campaign pledge to gut the unpopular law “root and branch” demands action - and quickly. And voters are eager to see how Senate Republicans intend to make good on that promise. No more excuses.
If Obamacare is still in effect next year, voters may make the rational decision that they don’t need a Republican majority for these results. To the Republicans sitting out this Obamacare repeal fight, we have only one thing to say: Good luck winning in 2018 without our support.