On Monday, the House released their Obamacare repeal and replace bill. The same day, four Republican senators wrote a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warning him they would not support any repeal bill that doesn’t protect the Obamacare Medicaid expansion.
“We are concerned that any poorly implemented or poorly timed change in the current funding structure in Medicaid could result in a reduction in access to life-saving health care services,” states the letter signed by Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Cory Gardner of Colorado.
Well, that sounds serious.
Now, if these four lawmakers decide to oppose the GOP’s Obamacare replacement, it will likely be doomed. Right now, the GOP plan allots states a set amount of federal funding for each person eligible for Medicaid, with any additional costs falling on the states. Leadership is going to have a hard enough time selling this weak bill to the conservative faction of the party.
Which bring me to Gardner. I’ve followed Gardner’s political career from the beginning. As one of the first congressional candidates who fused Tea Party idealism with competent messaging, he was palatable for many unaffiliated voters in Colorado. It would be a strange twist of fate for a politician who owes much of his political career to the unpopularity of Obamacare to play such a big part in obstructing repeal.
When Gardner ran against first-term Democrat Mark Udall for the Senate in 2014, Obamacare was particularly unpopular in Colorado. A Quinnipiac poll at time found that among registered Colorado voters, 60 percent opposed Obamacare, with only 37 percent in favor. Moreover, 68 percent of Independents — the largest voting block in in the state — were against the legislation. So Gardner, naturally, made the health-care bill the centerpiece of his campaign.
In an October 2014 Denver Post debate with Udall, Gardner was specifically asked about the future of the Medicaid expansion, a measure that Gardner pretended to vote against dozens of times while a member of the House.
“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act,” the Post’s Chuck Plunkett asked, “more than 200,000 Colorado residents were able to get health insurance through Medicaid. If Congress repeals the law, as you supported in the past, what would you do with these residents who would then lose coverage?”
What did Gardner say? Well, nothing about saving the Medicaid expansion. At all. Nothing about Obamacare threatening life-saving health-care services, a common talking point on the Left. Instead, Gardner suggested there are more constructive ideas available to bring down costs for those 200,000 Coloradans than coercion and welfare:
We have to do something instead of going back to what we had in place before the Affordable Care Act to address people with needs, including those people on Medicaid. To make sure we provide insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. To make sure that we address the issue of tort reform. That we have health savings accounts that can meet all the needs of the people.
That was less than three years ago. In 2013, Gardner pushed back against Erick Erickson’s prescient contention that many GOPers “will vote for symbolic votes against Obamacare. But when the heat is on, they won’t vote to defund it.” Again, Gardner mentions nothing about how repeal might threaten life-saving health-care services. In fact, he stresses his support for full repeal:
Obamacare needs to go. I have voted to repeal Obamacare in its entirety, dismantle it, and to defund it in the nearly 40 pieces of legislation that have come before the House. I am also a cosponsor of H.R. 2682, the Defund Obamacare Act, sponsored by Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) stating that ‘no Federal funds shall be made available to carry out any provisions’ of Obamacare. Senator Ted Cruz is leading the same bill on the Senate side.
Indeed, he was leading the charge. The “Defund Obamacare Act” Gardner brags about co-sponsoring says: “no entitlement to benefits under any provision of [Obamacare] shall remain in effect on and after the date of enactment.”
With new information, people evolve on issues. It happens all the time. So what happened since Gardner was in favor of full repeal? Was Medicaid not a life-saving health-care service in 2013 or 2014? Are tort reform and health savings accounts no longer viable ideas to “address people with needs, including those people on Medicaid?” Will Gardner help sink a replacement effort that was centerpiece for his candidacies for both the House and Senate? What has changed — other than the poll numbers?