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Demonstrators in support of former President Barack Obama's health care law on June 25, 2015.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images, File

Why it matters when Republican Senate hopefuls endorse ACA repeal

The more Republican senators and Senate candidates talk about ACA repeal, the more Democrats will try to make this a key 2022 issue.


At yesterday’s White House event on the Affordable Care Act, President Joe Biden made a point to emphasize that while the health care law is working, its opponents haven’t given up.

“In fact, just last month, the distinguished senator from Wisconsin said: If Republicans get back in power, they should try to repeal the Affordable Care Act again,” Biden said. “Today, 12 years later, Republicans have not stopped their attacks on this lifesaving law. So, pay very close attention, folks: If Republicans have their way, it means 100 million Americans with pre-existing conditions can once again be denied healthcare coverage by their insurance companies.”

There was no great mystery as to whom the president was referring. It was about a month ago when Sen. Ron Johnson appeared on a conservative radio talk show, and as The Washington Post reported, the Wisconsin Republican suggested ACA repeal would be on the table in a GOP-led Congress.

“For example, if we’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare — I still think we need to fix our health-care system — we need to have the plan ahead of time so that once we get in office, we can implement it immediately, not knock around like we did last time and fail,” the senator said.

Johnson soon after walked this back, which was itself evidence of the ACA’s strength, but it’s worth emphasizing the fact that the Wisconsin Republican isn’t alone. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

At the northeast Georgia Republican candidate forum over the weekend, four Republican Senate contenders each signaled support for repealing the Affordable Care Act. While Herschel Walker was a no-show, he’s also criticized the healthcare law over the years. At the forum, the four candidates — Gary Black, Josh Clark, Kelvin King and Latham Saddler — each were asked what they would do to improve the measure.

Improving the status quo did not appear to be on the Senate candidates’ minds. As the Journal-Constitution report explained, Clark, a former state legislator, said he “went office by office trying to make sure that we did not implement the Not Affordable Care Act in the state of Georgia.” Meanwhile, Saddler endorsed getting “rid of” Obamacare; Black complained about his party having failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act; and King said the need to “eliminate” the reform law is “obvious.”

To be sure, it’s difficult to say with any confidence whether any of these Georgia Republicans will actually make it to the U.S. Senate. At least for now, the top GOP candidate is Herschel Walker, and he’s refused to participate in primary debates. What’s more, no matter who emerges from the Republican field, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock will be a formidable and well-funded incumbent.

But the larger point is that when given an opportunity, these Republican Senate hopefuls were unanimous in their opposition to the Affordable Care Act. For these statewide candidates, scrapping the landmark reform law was a foregone conclusion.

In practical terms, that would of course mean millions of Americans would lose their coverage; protections for those with pre-existing conditions would disappear; families would once again face annual and lifetime caps; and on and on.

If Democrats were literally writing their own script for how the 2022 midterm elections would unfold, they’d likely put this at the top of their list: Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act again, so let’s have a months-long debate over health care.

As we recently discussed, it was only four years ago when Democrats won back the House majority in large part by focusing on Republican efforts to take health security away from tens of millions of families. The more GOP senators and Senate candidates keep that door open, the more competitive this year’s elections are likely to be.