Democrats dominated elections across the country Tuesday night, and health care was a major issue on the ballot both explicitly and implicitly.
Voters in Maine overwhelmingly backed a measure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to more than 80,000 state residents, voters in Virginia’s blue wave named health care as their top issue, and pro-Obamacare candidates won on the state and local level from New Jersey to Georgia.
But on Capitol Hill, most Republican lawmakers told TPM they don’t plan to change course on health care, and will continue working to repeal the Medicaid expansion and the entirety of the ACA. Despite polls showing that more Americans approve of Obamacare than at any time since its implementation, and the vast majority disapprove of Republican bills to repeal it, GOP members said the message they got from Tuesday’s elections was that their failure to deliver “results” is what is hurting Republicans, not their repeated attempts to gut the ACA.
Democrats, meanwhile, say the GOP’s health care agenda is guaranteeing its own electoral doom in 2018.
Republicans in the House of Representatives said Wednesday that voters sent a clear message in Tuesday’s election, but that message was not “leave the ACA alone.”
“The critical message is that we need to make our legislation match our campaign rhetoric, and to date we have not done that,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the chair of the influential far-right Freedom Caucus.
Far more moderate Republicans echoed Meadows’ assessment.
“I think Republicans are waiting to see if Republicans deliver on big issues,” Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-FL) told TPM. “Republicans need to show results. If we do, they’ll support us. If we don’t, it’s going to be a long 2018.”
Asked about Maine’s resounding endorsement of Medicaid expansion, Diaz Balart insisted that voters aren’t concerned with health care policy specifics.
“They don’t care whether it’s Medicaid expansion or whatever. That’s Washington talk,” he said. “When I go home people don’t tell me specifics about a bill, they tell me to solve problems. People want a health care system that works for them, and if Republicans don’t have answers, they’re going to seek other answers.”
Meadows, who is currently fighting to insert a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate into the GOP tax bill, laughed when TPM asked if Maine’s vote to expand Obamacare will make Republicans rethink their attempts to repeal it.
“I don’t know that Maine normally is a bellwether for the rest of the country,” he said with a grin. “It never has been. I don’t know that so Maine goes, so goes the rest of the country.”
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) laughed at the question as well, and said Maine’s vote only made him more motivated to end Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion before other states “jump on the bandwagon.”
“It shows me the need to move forward and limit the states that can expand, and over time, eliminate or at least reduce the federal share of that so it goes back to the normal match,” he said.
But Democrats—and a small handful of Republicans—are interpreting the GOP rout at the polls Tuesday night as a referendum on months of attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“Health care is on the minds of the American people,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said in a floor speech on Wednesday pleading with his colleagues to pass a bipartisan bill he co-authored that would prop up Obamacare’s individual market. “One would think that the American people are turning to Washington to ask, ‘Why doesn’t the President and the Congress do something?'”
“Both sides should work together to get to something,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) agreed, adding that Medicaid expansion makes sense for both his home state and places like Maine.
“Every time you can get more dollars back for each dollar you put in, it should be well thought of in helping take care of health needs,” he told TPM, “and particularly in Maine, with the opioid crisis.”
Democrats on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, say the lesson from Tuesday night is that a platform of defending and expanding the Affordable Care Act is a winning one at the ballot box, and they’re happy to let Republicans hang themselves with more repeal attempts.
“Health care is the single largest issue of 2017,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) told TPM. “There is more identification with that issue than any other single factor. We’ve seen in the last decade a real apathy with voters, thinking it doesn’t make that much difference who they voted for. Now they see it does make a difference.”