Senate Republicans are having a hard time agreeing on what to do if the Supreme Court guts Obamacare in the upcoming King v. Burwell ruling. The court is expected to render a decision some time in June. While the outcome of the case is uncertain, the Supreme Court could potentially invalidate much of Obama’s signature health care law, eliminating federal subsidies for health care recipients in 34 states.
Some Senate Republicans are scrambling to put together a contingency plan in case the court does strike down the heart of Obamacare. Unsurprisingly, Senators in blue states and swing states, who are up for re-election in 2016, are most actively trying to prevent constituents from being thrown off the federal exchanges right before the 2016 elections. They reason that voters who lose their health insurance might take out their frustrations on GOP Senators at the polls.
One of the most endangered Senate Republicans, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, is leading the effort to try to extend health care subsidies 18 months for those who will be thrown off Obamacare. Conveniently, that would keep his constituents from losing their health care coverage until after the 2016 election. Johnson faces a tough re-election bid. Former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold (D) is running to avenge his loss to Johnson in 2010.
One of the problems Johnson, and other vulnerable Republican Senators in tight 2016 races, faces is that a handful of U.S. Senators running for president are staunchly opposed to any law that is seen as propping up the remnants of Obamacare, even if just temporarily. Presidential hopefuls like Ted Cruz (TX), Rand Paul (KY), and Marco Rubio (FL) have little incentive to work with Johnson and other Republicans to pass any kind of healthcare legislation.
In their attempts to appeal to the hardcore GOP base that will dominate early contests like the Iowa Republican Caucuses, the GOP presidential aspirants are eager to trash Obamacare to maximize their support with anti-Obama voters. Ted Cruz, for example, is campaigning heavily on the theme of repealing every word of Obamacare. Senator Rand Paul has adopted a similar no compromise approach to rejecting the president’s health care law.
While the GOP presidential field if falling over one another trying to prove who hates Obamacare the most, Republican Senators facing re-election are suddenly concerned that people might lose health insurance. Not so much out of legitimate concern for the health and well-being of their constituents, but more as a matter of political survival.
Senator Johnson lamented that if the court repeals the federal subsides and Congress doesn’t act to at least temporarily extend them:
It would hurt real people. That’s something any member of Congress, any public elected official, has got to respond to. You just can’t stop something cold turkey. It’s not responsible. It’s not a fair thing to do.
Although Ron Johnson only seems to acknowledge that Obama’s health care law actually helps people now that he is in dire jeopardy of losing his Senate seat, his recognition also reveals what has gone wrong with contemporary Republican politics. GOP Senators put personal ambition ahead of their constituents. Presidential candidates like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are willing to throw millions of their red state constituents off of their health care, in order to appeal to anti-Obama primary voters. Republican Senators in blue states and swing states, who have painted themselves into a box over the past few years by working to repeal Obamacare, are now singing a different tune as they fight for their political lives in 2016 battleground Senate races.
The Republican’s dilemma would have never come to this impasse if they would simply work to do the right thing for Americans who need health care, rather than basing their decisions on whether or not the choice they make will advance their political careers. Voters in 2016 should reject the Machiavellian presidential candidates like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. They should also vote to retire Senator Ron Johnson whose cynical conversion to compassion only coincides with the 6-year cycle for Senate election years.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.