The first congressional election of Donald Trump’s presidency is one week away. Although Republicans are strongly favored to retain the seat formerly held by Rep. Mike Pompeo, the race is seen as the Democrats’ first test of candidates, messages, strategies, and tactics in an effort to win a series of special elections over the course of the next three months, and to prepare for midterm elections in 2018. Kansas Democrats chose James Thompson, a civil rights attorney from Wichita, as their standard bearer to run against state treasurer Ron Estes. Can a Democrat win in a solidly Republican state representing a district that includes Koch Industries? The answer is yes, though it will be an uphill battle based on historical trends and more recent developments in the state. If elected, Thompson would be the first Democrat to hold the seat in more than two decades, and would be the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation.
Congressional Republicans and the Trump Administration had 24 million reasons to be unhappy on Monday: that’s the number of Americans who would lose their health insurance under the Republican-crafted American Health Care Act by 2026, according to a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. The major findings of the CBO estimate:
- The AHCA would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion from 2017-2026.
- The biggest savings would come from reductions in Medicaid and the elimination of subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act.
- The biggest costs would come from repealing changes to the Internal Revenue Code caused by the ACA.
- In 2018, there would be 14 million more uninsured people than under the current ACA law.
- This figure will continue to increase by 21 million in 2020 and 24 million in 2026.
- By 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be without health insurance, compared to 28 million people for current projections under the ACA.
- The reduction in insurance coverage between 2018-2026 would be in large part from states discontinuing the Medicaid expansion program offered under the ACA.
- In 2018 and 2019, average premiums for single policyholders would be 15-20 percent higher than under the current law. Average premiums would start to decrease in 2020.
- By 2026, average premiums for single policy holders would be 10 percent lower than under the current law.
- However, the savings on premiums (or lack thereof) vary by age:
- For a 21-year-old: 20-25 percent less
- For a 40-year-old: 8-10 percent less
- For a 64-year-old: 20-25 percent higher
- Medicaid spending would decrease by $880 billion from 2017-2026.
- By 2026, Medicaid spending would be 25 percent less than what the CBO estimates currently under the ACA.
Republicans – who had previously cited CBO estimates as evidence to attack the ACA – had been preemptively attacking or trying to question the credibility of the agency in the days leading up to the estimate’s release. Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, told Fox News, “We will see what the score is, in fact in the past, the CBO score has really been meaningless.” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told reporters, “We disagree strenuously,” with the CBO’s findings.
Not all Republicans were optimistic about the proposed law, even before the CBO estimate was released. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) warned House Republicans that they would be risking their majority if they voted for the AHCA, and told them, “Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote.”
Opposition to the bill is not limited to Democrats. A variety of organizations ranging from the left, right and center have all publicly come out against the AHCA. They include the AARP, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, Moveon.org, and the Center for American Progress.
Democrats attacked the AHCA almost immediately after its unveiling last week, because it finally gave them a concrete Republican policy proposal to target after nearly seven years of a vague and undefined “repeal and replace” pledge Republicans offered as an alternative to the ACA. The CBO estimate will provide them with quantifiable data for campaign ads and talking points to target Republicans running for election or reelection in the 2017 and 2018 cycles.
In a statement, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said, “Donald Trump’s ‘insurance for everybody’ pledge was a big fat lie.”
“The CBO, which is headed by a Republican-appointed director, just made it clear that Trump’s health care plan will cause up to 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance. At the same time, the plan slashes Medicaid, drives up the cost of care for older Americans, and defunds life-saving services provided by Planned Parenthood. The only winners here are Trump, and the corporations and rich people who get to pocket new tax breaks.”
“Of course, instead of admitting that the bill would leave millions without health insurance, Republicans are desperately trying to discredit the CBO with more ‘alternative facts.’ The American people are smarter than that.”
Tyler Law, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, issued a statement saying, “Every single House Republican owns this catastrophic bill and should be prepared for backlash at the ballot box, particularly given the anticipated loss of coverage for 14 million people as early as next year.”
UPDATE: Politico viewed a White House assessment of the AHCA which estimated 26 million Americans would lose their health insurance by 2026 – two million more than the CBO estimate. The explanation for the document from White House Communications Director Michael Dubke was, “This is OMB trying to project what CBO’s score will be using CBO’s methodology.”
The DSCC should send Donald Trump a thank-you card. From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON — The courtship of Ryan Zinke began months before the end of the presidential race. A Republican congressman from Montana and a former Navy SEAL commander, Mr. Zinke was approached over the summer by Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, about running for the Senate in 2018.
To Mr. McConnell, Mr. Zinke (pronounced ZIN-kee) was an ideal candidate to defeat Senator Jon Tester, a two-term Democrat, and bolster the Republicans’ slender majority.
Then President-elect Donald J. Trump intervened.
Mr. McConnell learned early this week that Mr. Trump had grown interested in Mr. Zinke to be secretary of the interior. Mr. McConnell quickly contacted both Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, in an effort to head off the appointment, according to multiple Republican officials familiar with the calls.
Mr. Trump’s defiant selection of Mr. Zinke, 55, dismayed Republicans in the capital and raised suspicions about how reliable an ally he will be for the party. Even as Mr. Trump has installed party stalwarts in a few cabinet departments, he has repeatedly shrugged off the requests of Republicans who have asked for help reinforcing their power in Congress.
And having flouted the party establishment throughout the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump now appears determined to go his own way in office, guided by personal chemistry and the opinions of his family members.
Based on these political dynamics, Zinke will probably sail through his confirmation hearing without breaking a sweat. If he is confirmed, that means that Montana governor Steve Bullock will have to call a special election to fill the seat, which represents the entire state in the House of Representatives.
Zinke was just re-elected to his seat 56-40, in a state that Donald Trump won by 21 points but also re-elected Democrat Steve Bullock by 4. Democrats have won in state and federal races in Montana, so this House race should be seen as winnable by the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Montana Democratic Party. This race gives Democrats an opportunity to test message and strategy ahead of Jon Tester’s re-election run in 2018, and will likely be their first attempt at winning a congressional race since the November election.
The Montana Democratic Party flagged a story about Whitefish resident and white nationalist leader Richard Spencer saying he was “very seriously” considering running for the Republican nomination. In a separate story by The Missoulian, Montana Democratic Party executive director Nancy Keenan issued a statement saying, “To be clear, Richard Spencer’s views are not Montanans’ views. We’ve called on the Montana GOP to denounce this kind of racism in their party this year and we will continue to hold Republicans accountable for this fear-mongering behavior as we move toward a special election to fill this U.S. House seat.” Montana Republican Party chairman Jeff Essmann is quoted in the same story saying, “In most corners of Montana, a Spencer candidacy would be viewed skeptically.”
The candidates who will run in the special election will be chosen by their respective state parties rather than through a normal primary process. Because of this, Republicans can probably breathe a sigh of relief in that this scenario virtually guarantees Spencer will not get the nomination. After the experience of 2012 where Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock cost the Senate GOP two races it should have won because they said outrageous and controversial comments which torpedoed their campaigns, Republicans have learned their lesson. On the other hand, Donald Trump just got elected president in spite of the many outrageous and controversial comments he made before and during the campaign. Perhaps some Republican candidates will try emulating that tactic to win an election in the future.