August 19, 2013

This is some very interesting video, passed along by the Dem-allied American Bridge, of GOP Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada, getting grilled by a constituent who knows the Affordable Care Act very well and wants to know why Heck would take its benefits away from people:

American Bridge says the constituent isn’t a plant, and Heck’s office tells me they don’t think it’s a plant, either.

The constituent, a self-described “business person,” says the law has already saved him money and will save him more in the future, adding that it has already bent the cost curve. “Why would you oppose the ACA at every turn?” the man asks. “Why would you oppose something that’s helping me now?”

What this sort of encounter confirms, as another similar moment with GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina did recently, is that we may now be heading into new political territory when it comes to Obamacare. Polls continue to show the law remains unpopular and that public confusion about it remains rampant. But now that the law’s concrete benefits are kicking in, it may be harder for Republicans to explain their continuing drive to repeal it, particularly to constituents who understand what repeal would take away from them. We’re a long way from the anti-Obamacare town halls of the magical Summer of ’09.

Indeed, note that Heck explained his support for repeal by at first resorting to a number of well worn arguments — Dems rammed the law through in the dead of night; the bill is 2,700 pages long — that now sound politically dated and irrelevant. But then he went on to allow that “there are good things in the bill that we’ve gotta keep.”

Heck’s position is interesting, because he’s not as committed to the total destruction of Obamacare at all costs as are some of his colleagues. (He comes from a district that voted for Obama in 2012, and he recently came out for a path to citizenship, calling the Senate immigration reform bill’s path “reasonable.”) Heck’s spokesman, Greg Lemon, confirms to me that he does not support a government shutdown confrontation to force the defunding of Obamacare.

And as Heck noted to his constituent, he at least recognizes that we need to keep some aspects of the Affordable Care Act. While Heck wasn’t specific in the above video, it seems reasonable to assume that Heck supports some of the consumer protections in the law, as some other GOP officials say they do.

How Republicans would keep, say, the protection for people with preexisting conditions while doing away with the individual mandate is a good question on its own. But that aside, the problem for lawmakers like Heck is that, when House Republicans try to pass just popular provisions such as the preexisting conditions piece, conservatives revolt, because they fear it will weaken the appetite to pursue full repeal and will legitimize an ambitious role for the federal government in dramatically expanding coverage to the uninsured and in fixing other problems in the health care system.

Republicans plan to roll out another similar effort to appear interested in fixing the health care system this fall, but it very well may meet the same fate. In which case even Republicans who don’t necessarily embrace the destroy-Obamacare-entirely-or-bust posture — such as Heck — will essentially be stuck defending it.

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UPDATE: Heck’s office says the speaker is a constituent — a small business owner in Las Vegas — but one who also works with Dem groups like OFA. However, Heck “takes all comers at town halls,” his office says, so it’s not as if his questions were somehow invalid.

Indeed, proponents of Obamacare are actively working to put pressure on GOP lawmakers to create situations like these, in order to demonstrate that the pro-repeal position may prove hard to defend.

UPDATE II: The constitutent is Ron Nelsen of Las Vegas, who owns and operates “Pioneer Overhead Door.” Nelson has participated in OFA meetings, but he says he’s not an official organizer. In any case Heck is his Congressman, and Nelsen says he was there in his capacity as a Heck constituent.

“I wasn’t there representing anyone but myself, my company, my employees and my family,” he tells me.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.