Moderate Democrats Would Rather Talk About Health Care Than Impeachment

June 18, 2019

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Source: Bloomberg

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to draw attention away from the politically explosive topic of impeaching President Donald Trump by putting health care back at center stage for Democrats.

Pelosi said more than 140 House Democrats held home-district events on health care over the weekend. This focus is especially important for moderate Democrats eager show voters they’re trying to deliver on their campaign promises even as some of their colleagues push ahead with investigations of Trump’s business, associates and administration.

“When we won the election in November, it was health care, health care, health care,” Pelosi said Monday at an event at East Los Angeles College in her home state of California. “People said ‘why was health care so important in the election?’ It was because it was so important in peoples lives.”

Her pivot to health care comes as the party seeks to protect vulnerable House Democrats in Republican-leaning districts in 2020, with Democratic leaders wary of an impeachment inquiry that could backfire. Health policy is also an issue where Republicans have been on the defensive after trying and failing in 2017 to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which helped Democrats pick up 40 GOP seats in 2018.

Health care is a winning issue for Democrats and remains a “hearty perennial,” said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

“They’re right to focus on it,” she added. “Impeachment isn’t the top priority for the nation. There’s no question about that.”

‘Assault on Health Care’

Pelosi also on Monday condemned what she said were Trump’s latest efforts to “dismantle” health care in America. She was referring to the president’s claim in an ABC News interview that a “phenomenal” GOP health care plan is “almost complete,” just months after Senate Republicans convinced him that such a promise would be a losing issue after the party’s 2017 health care quagmire.

“President Trump has waged an assault on health care since the start,” Pelosi said, “and continues to order the Justice Department to ask the courts to destroy protections for people with pre-existing conditions and strike down every other protection and guarantee of affordable health care for America’s families.”

A May 29-30 Harvard-Harris poll found that health care was the top issue for 36% of registered voters surveyed, making it the No. 2 issue behind immigration. While the poll didn’t explicitly ask about impeachment, corruption was a priority for only 13% of those surveyed.

Still, unlike in 2018, the health care issue risks revealing divisions among Democrats. The party was largely united in defending Obamacare and its private health care insurance exchanges last year, but now most leading presidential hopefuls and more progressive Democrats in Congress are embracing a single-payer program often described as Medicare for All.

Such proposals would end private insurance and might not appeal to the 31 House Democrats now holding seats in districts that Trump won in 2016 and are the GOP’s top targets. Republicans need to pick up 18 seats to retake the majority.

Pelosi’s Approach

Views on the Medicare for All debate are increasingly partisan, according to an April 11-16 Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The number of Republicans with a “very negative” reaction to the term Medicare for All has increased to 51% from 42% in 2017. On the other hand, the share of Democrats who have a “very positive” reaction to the term rose to 58% from 49% in 2017.

Bob Salera, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Democrats could find themselves in political quicksand.

“If the socialist Democrats want to talk about health care, they should be forced to answer for their Medicare for All plan,” Salera said. “Between their extreme policies and nonstop, baseless push for impeachment, the socialist Democrats would be well advised to quickly change the subject to anything else.”

House Democrats in May approved seven health-care bills designed to shore up an Obamacare health system that is opposed by the White House. Pelosi said Monday she prefers an approach that expands on the Affordable Care Act — rather than replacing it — by raising the income threshold for subsidies and addressing cost inflation by lowering drug prices.

“We have to be smart about what we’re proposing,” Pelosi said at East Los Angeles College.

The House has held hearings, but has not advanced any bill that would move to a universal health care system, even though Medicare for All has emerged as a key issue in the party’s 2020 presidential nomination battle. Five of the seven senators vying for the nomination back a Medicare-for-All bill.

The broader issue of health care access will be a focal point in 2020 House campaigns, said Cole Leiter, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“While Democrats are working every day to bring down Americans’ health care costs, make prescription drugs more affordable, and protect people with pre-existing conditions, Washington Republicans are doing the bidding of special interests and drug manufacturers, no matter the cost for everyday folks,” Leiter said in a statement. “Needless to say, there’s a reason the American people trust Democrats to improve their ability to afford their health care coverage, and don’t want Washington Republicans anywhere near their health.”


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