Leonhardt: The fight for health care has begun

Leonhardt: The fight for health care has begun

January 11th, 2017 by David Leonhardt/New York Times News Service in Opinion Times Commentary

FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2016 file photo, the HealthCare.gov 2017 web site home page as seen in Washington. The Obama administration says 11.5 million people have enrolled for coverage under the president's health care law as of Dec. 24. That's about 290,000 more sign-ups than last year at the same time, despite the Republican vow to repeal "Obamacare." (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

When House Republicans abandoned their plan to gut an independent ethics office last week, it showed the power of public opinion. It also offered a playbook for Democrats in 2017.

As soon as news of the original plan broke late last Monday afternoon, social media exploded with outrage. Phone calls poured in to Capitol Hill the next morning. At 10 a.m., Donald Trump distanced himself from the plan, and by midafternoon Republicans had folded.

We've seen this script before, but it has recently come from the political right more often than the left. The Tea Party and its allies managed to alter President Barack Obama's 2009 stimulus and 2010 health care law, as well as help block climate, preschool and infrastructure bills.

Remember, some of those victories came when Republicans didn't control the White House or Congress. But they had other advantages: a focused message, a strong organization and a whole lot of passion. They influenced policy by striking political fear into members of Congress.

Now it's the left's turn to use public opinion.

Even before Trump becomes president, Congress is taking steps to deprive millions of people of health insurance. Democrats in Congress should do everything they can to thwart the effort.

Republican leaders have muddied the Obamacare debate with bureaucratic jargon: deductibles, premiums, the individual mandate, repeal and delay. Don't be fooled.

Obamacare extended health insurance to more than 20 million people — middle-class, poor and sick people — and paid for it with taxes on the wealthy and corporations. It was the biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising four decades ago.

Republican leaders say they will repeal Obamacare with a delayed effective date and later make sure that people don't lose insurance, but the leaders have no credible plan for doing so. They're making an empty promise based on magical thinking.

Democrats have gotten off to a decent start in fighting back. A rigorous poll found that only 20 percent of Americans favor a repeal without an immediate replacement, and a handful of Senate Republicans have publicly expressed anxiety about repeal-and-delay.

But Senate Democrats still aren't doing everything they can. Most important, they have not committed to dragging out the debate as long as possible later this week, by offering a blizzard of amendments. Once again, Democrats are at risk of bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Republicans plan to act quickly, without the months of hearings that Democrats held on Obamacare, for a reason: Transparency is the enemy of repeal. The more Americans who understand repeal, the more unpopular it will become.

What can you do? By all means, post messages on Facebook and Twitter if you want. But you can also do something more effective. You can call your senator.

Congressional staff members privately admit that they ignore many of the emails and letters they get. They also admit that phone calls are different. They have to answer them. Other people in the office hear the phone ringing and see their colleagues on the line. Phone calls are a tangible sign of public opinion, which is why they have been effective before.

If your senators are Republicans, tell them you're part of the large majority of Americans who oppose repeal-and-delay. If they're Democrats, tell them you want them to work harder — to stay on the Senate floor all night, if need be — fighting for people's health care.

That's what this is really about. It's not about Obama or Trump or Congress. It's about making sure that every citizen of the world's most powerful country can receive modern medical care.

The New York Times

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