As House Speaker Paul Ryan and the GOP flounder in their attempts to sell their repeal and replace plan on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there’s a real opportunity for Democrats to make inroads into retaking the House in 2018. This is an unheard of advantage, given that the first months to a year of a new President’s term are usually time for the executive and his party to consolidate power and pursue their agenda.
But, of course, Donald Trump is no normal President, the 2016 election was no normal election, and the GOP is not a normal party. So now, in week eight of the Trump administration, the signature policy proposal of the new regime is not only dying on the vine in Congress but also eroding whatever political capital they had.
The Democrats should take this opportunity to push for a popular, populist policy and reap the electoral benefits. That policy exists—it’s called universal health care.
With the governing party in disarray because of their attacks on an entitlement program, the Democrats have a unique moment in which to make some gains. It starts with acknowledging the fact that the health care entitlement program they passed in 2010 is at best an imperfect place holder for single-payer.
One of the interesting points of recent polling is that while Americans are supportive of the ACA, the bill’s slangy “Obamacare” name brings the approval numbers down. But the reasons for this disconnect are quite clear. Beyond the GOP’s message machine, which effectively painted the program as a lurching disaster of misfiring big government, the bill has had serious problems. Signing up for insurance is difficult. The ACA website is famously awful and the deadlines are not well publicized to the public. Further, premiums have gone up as options have gone down—a perfect example of the inefficiency of private companies doing the work of the state. All of these problems are understood under the umbrella of “Obamacare.”
Yet the ACA, a flawed program that has failed to live up to its promise, is gaining support in polls. Ever since the reality of the Republican plan to repeal and replace it became reality, the American people have understandably freaked out. Thus we’re seeing rising support for the bill—helped along by the fact that it’s no longer referred to as “Obamacare”—among the American public.
So while a robust defense of the ACA is a part of retaking the House in 2018, simply defending the bill isn’t enough. In order to do win outright in 2018, the Democrats will have to take the painful and unfamiliar step of getting behind an idea that’s popular with a majority of Americans: universal health care.
Universal health care has been a popular policy for years. Support for the program has been consistent, as Kevin Drum pointed out last year in the misnomered Mother Jones magazine.
With the exception of fluctuations between 2010 and 2014—when the debate over the health care law contained such riches as “death panels” and the specter of socialism—support for the idea that the government should provide health care has remained high. Through 2007, when Gallup showed support reached a nice 69%, the US population favored universal health care by double digits. Since 2014 it’s inched above 50% again.
It’s obvious this is a winning issue. The Democrats will just have to decide if running on a policy their big money donors don’t like is worth the inevitable success such a policy campaign would bring the party. Quite frankly, getting on board with universal health care now would benefit both Democrats and their donor base. Sure, the latter would lose substantial profits in the short term. But in the long term, the benefits of the Democrats in charge of the government could prove quite lucrative for their supporters.
Of course, the alternative is to go down with the ship, defending the least bad option against the far worse one. Which, unfortunately for the rest of us, is the Democratic way. Let’s hope they act contrary to form—for once.
You can reach Eoin Higgins on Facebook and Twitter.