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Lindsey Graham inadvertently bolsters the Dems' point on ACA

Democrats are desperate to tie Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the health care fight. Today, Lindsey Graham unexpectedly played along.
Image: James Comey Testifies Before Senate Judiciary Committee
Sen. Lindsey Graham waits to begin a hearing on Capitol Hill on Sept. 30, 2020.Stefani Reynolds / Pool via Getty Images

As Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation process got underway yesterday, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee had one specific goal: tying her nomination to the future of the Affordable Care Act. By and large, they succeeded, at least as a tactical matter.

It was against this backdrop that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) began today's proceedings by largely endorsing the Democratic line.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, began his time for questions by bashing Obamacare, as Democrats have warned that Barrett's confirmation would result in the reversal of the health care law. "All of you want to impose Obamacare in South Carolina -- we don't want it," Graham said. "We want South Carolina-care, not Obamacare."

The GOP senator, facing a surprisingly difficult re-election fight this year, added that he believes the Affordable Care Act has been "a disaster for the state of South Carolina," and he considers it an outrage that his home state receives less federal funding through the ACA than several other states.

That said, Graham went on to insist that he's convinced the issue "has got nothing to do with this hearing."

First, the idea that "Obamacare" has been a "disaster" for South Carolina is a curious assessment. Within the first three years of the ACA's existence, the uninsured rate in the state dropped by more than a third. If Graham and his party succeeds in tearing down the nation's existing system, hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians would lose their subsidized coverage, and many more would suddenly be without benefits and protections they've come to rely on.

Second, it's true that South Carolina has received less money than several "blue" states, but that's because South Carolina is one of the states that still refuses to embrace Medicaid expansion. In other words, Graham's complaining about his home state getting fewer federal funds under the ACA, because he's failing to note that it's because South Carolina has effectively declared, "Give us less money; we don't want to cover more low-income families."

If Graham wants to remedy the financial imbalance, he probably ought to encourage South Carolina's Republican-led state government to do the smart thing.

Third, to pretend the future of the ACA "has got nothing to do with this hearing" is backwards: the Supreme Court will soon decide the fate of the existing health care system, and according to Donald Trump, Republicans are counting on conservative justices -- including Amy Coney Barrett -- to destroy the status quo.

But it's the significance of the big picture that resonates: Senate Democrats want to keep much of the focus this week on health care, and Graham and his GOP brethren find themselves on the defensive.

Update: To help drive the point home, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said at this morning's hearing, "It’s ACA vs. ACB." The latter, of course, refers to Amy Coney Barrett's initials.