- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Republican Obamacare replacement bill is proving to be absolute poison on the campaign trail, where party candidates range from noncommittal to downright hostile.

“I am against it,” said Corey Stewart, who is battling for the Republican nomination in the Virginia governor’s race. “It doesn’t go far enough. Look, a bunch of politicians in Washington are never going to be able to create an efficient one-size-fits-all health care system.”

The plan also has been met with disdain in Georgia, where 11 Republicans are running for the seat left vacant by President Trump’s health and human services secretary. Several of the candidates — including Amy Kremer and Bob Gray — have panned the plan as “Obamacare-lite” and said conservatives instead should deliver on the full repeal they promised on the campaign trail.

“The American people voted for change in November by electing President Trump,” said Mr. Gray, one of the Georgia candidates. “It’s time for Congress to now deliver to the American people the change they asked for — the change that was promised to them.”

For Republican leaders already having a tough time selling their bill in Washington, the last thing they need is a steady dose of negative reaction from candidates running in elections back home.

“The Republicans on the Hill are trying to put out the fire, and these guys are throwing accelerant on the fire,” said Ford O’Connell, a party strategist.

“You are shooting yourself and the long-term prospects for President Trump in the foot when you do this,” he said, arguing that Republicans need to show they can govern. “These guys have to grow a backbone, hold the line and see the big picture because the more successful Trump is, the more successful they will be.”

The bill Republican leaders are pushing through the House would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requiring individuals to buy insurance and would scrap the exchanges where those who don’t have coverage through their employers or through Medicaid can purchase plans.

Instead, the plan would offer tax credits, based on age, to help those people buy insurance on the private market. Republicans would shift Medicaid from a federal-state partnership to a program that states run with a heavy boost from federal taxpayers.

Hoping to sell the bill, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, used his weekly press conference to conduct a presentation for reporters. He said his plan is the only shot Republicans will get.

“This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare,” he said. “It really comes down to a binary choice.”

In South Carolina, where Republicans are competing for the seat left vacant when Mr. Trump picked former Rep. Mick Mulvaney as his budget director, Mr. Ryan’s bill isn’t much of a choice at all. They want a flat repeal, without a replacement.

“The federal government has no business being in health care,” Kris Wampler, a lawyer who has joined the race, said as he kicked off a candidate forum. “It has no business being in education. It has no business being in housing or anything else that is not in the Constitution.”

Sheri Few said the responsibility of regulating health care should be left to the states, so Republicans shouldn’t even be considering a replacement plan.

“We should keep the feds out entirely,” she said.

The best backing the Republican bill has received is from Bruce LeVell, who led minority outreach efforts for the Trump campaign and is now running for the Georgia congressional seat left vacant by Tom Price, who is now health and human services secretary.

Mr. LeVell said the administration deserves credit for trying to find a compromise that can pass. “The president is for it, Dr. Price is for it, so is Bruce LeVell,” he said.

Other candidates appear reluctant to take a stand on the Republican bill. One of them is Ed Gillespie, a former presidential adviser to George W. Bush who is running in the Virginia governor’s race against Mr. Stewart and two other Republicans.

“Ed believes Obamacare is a disaster that should be completely repealed and replaced — and done so without punishing taxpayers in fiscally responsible states like Virginia,” said Gillespie spokesman Matt Moran. “Ed believes that Congress and the Trump administration should work together to pass a conservative plan that fully repeals Obamacare and replaces it with a health care system that saves taxpayer dollars, increases affordability and gives consumers the choices they deserve.”

A Democrat in the race, former Rep. Tom Perriello, said his vote for Obamacare during his term in Congress is now a boon.

“As someone who may have lost my congressional seat voting for the ACA, I have never regretted it,” Mr. Perriello said. “I assure you that knowing you’ve protected the lives of millions is more valuable than protecting your own political career.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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