New Strategy? Republicans Shift Healthcare Focus as Midterms Approach

Oregon_Primary-07862-4208Republican candidates have begun to retreat in recent weeks from their all-out assault on the Affordable Care Act in favor of a more piecemeal approach, suggesting they would preserve some aspects of the law while jettisoning others.

The changing tactics signal that the health-care law — while still unpopular with voters overall — may no longer be the lone rallying cry for Republicans seeking to defeat Democrats in this year’s midterm elections.

The moves also come as senior House Republicans have decided to postpone a floor vote on their own health-reform proposal, making it less likely that a GOP alternative will be on offer before the November elections, according to lawmakers familiar with the deliberations. The delay will give them more time to work on the bill and weigh the consequences of putting a detailed policy before the voters in the fall, lawmakers said.

On the campaign trail, some Republicans and their allies have started talking about the health-care law in more nuanced terms than they have in the past.

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is running ads suggesting that many of its favored candidates will tweak Obamacare rather than scrap it. One spot says that Rep. Joseph J. Heck (R-Nev.) will fix the law, while another says Republican House contender Richard Tisei in Massachusetts will “work in a bipartisan manner to fix health care the right way.”

The business group’s ads in Kentucky use almost identical language, declaring in separate spots that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) and Rep. Garland “Andy” Barr (R) would work to “fix” the “Obamacare mess.”

In Oregon, GOP Senate candidate and pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehbybacks the ban on discriminating against consumers on the basis of preexisting conditions and the provision allowing parents to keep their children on their plans until age 26, according to spokesman Charlie Pearce. While she opposes other aspects of the law and would like to replace it, Pearce said, she does not see that as realistic while “the president’s in office.”

GOP Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land in Michigan has called for the health-care law’s repeal. But on Friday, Land spokeswoman Heather Swift said the candidate applauds a move by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to expand Medicaid coverage under the law.

Some Republicans are grappling with how to characterize their views. Scott Brown, a former senator from Massachusetts who now is running for a Senate seat in New Hampshire, continues to campaign against the law. But Brown also acknowledges keeping his 23-year-old daughter on his insurance plan, which would not be offered without the health-care law, and has declined to say whether he would endorse expansion of the Medicaid program in the state.

Will Hurd, a GOP House candidate running against Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Tex.) in the state’s only competitive congressional race, said this week in an interview that there are two “simple things” he would fix about the law. He would provide tax credits to individuals seeking care and allow people to buy plans being sold in other states.

In Minnesota, Republican House candidate Stewart Mills pledges in a campaign ad to “replace” the law rather than simply repealing it.

Elizabeth Wilner, a senior vice president at Kantar Media, wrote in a recent column for the Cook Political Report that after more than $400 million worth of ads opposing the law in recent months, “a shift already is underway” on the airwaves.

The law, which had a rocky rollout in the fall, managed to exceed its enrollment goals last month but still struggles to gain traction with voters. A Gallup poll released Thursday found that 51 percent of Americans disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, while 43 percent approve. But surveys consistently find that fewer than four in 10 want to repeal the law, while about six in 10 prefer making changes or improvements to the current framework.

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