Now that Scott Brown looks all but certain to run for Senate in New Hampshire, sooner or later he’ll be asked: Do you support or oppose the Medicaid expansion that’s currently moving forward in the state you want to represent?
The question goes beyond just New Hampshire and is a reminder that the politics of Obamacare are not quite as clear cut for Republicans as they like to claim.
Earlier this month, the GOP-controlled state senate passed a version of the Medicaid expansion in New Hampshire, and it will get a vote this week in the Democratic-controlled House, which is expected to pass it, after which it would be signed by the Dem governor. It could expand coverage to 50,000 people in the state and proponents expect the federal cash it brings in to boost the state’s economy.
You’d think opposing the state’s Medicaid expansion would be a no-brainer for Scott Brown. After Alex Sink’s loss in Florida’s 13th district, Brown claimed Obamacare’s toxicity is a reason he may run.
“A big political wave is about to break in America, and the Obamacare Democrats are on the wrong side of that wave,” Brown insisted at the time. “If we don’t like Obamacare, we can get rid of it. Period.”
So does Brown support “getting rid” of the Medicaid expansion? I contacted an informal spokesman for Brown today, but he declined to comment.
If Brown says he opposes the expansion, that would put him at odds with Republicans in the state who support it and allow Dems to argue he would take health coverage away from tens of thousands and turn away funds that would boost the state’s economy. (Brown is already discovering that Republican constituents are benefitting from the overall law.) But if he supports the expansion, that would put him at odds with some national Republicans and underscore once again that the GOP repeal stance is problematic, despite his claim that Obamacare’s unpopularity will unleash a “wave” drowning untold numbers of Dems. It would also raise questions about a core rationale for running — the vow to “get rid” of the law.
As I’ve noted before, despite high disapproval of Obamacare, the Medicaid expansion is taking on a political life of its own. In Michigan, GOP Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land embraced GOP Governor Rick Snyder’s version of the expansion, which may cover as many as half a million people, after Dem Gary Peters demanded she take a stand on it. In Louisiana, the expansion will be debated this spring, and Dem Mary Landrieu will attack her GOP opponent when he opposes it, linking that opposition to the Koch brothers, since Americans for Prosperity is actively campaigning against the expansion there.
More broadly, the problem with the GOP repeal stance is that even Republicans who recognize that it is politically untenable and know they have to offer alternative solutions, such as GOP Senate candidate Thom Tillis, are finding themselves unable to do so. Any specific alternative that will accomplish the popular parts of Obamacare carries policy trade-offs that will be hard for Republicans to embrace and would get them attacked by the right. Yet even Karl Rove has advised Republicans not to run on repeal alone and to offer alternatives.
To be clear, the fundamental underlying situation Dems face may be so bad that Republicans may be able to win by calling for repeal while remaining vague on replace and perhaps even somehow supporting the Medicaid expansion. But with Obamacare now expanding coverage to millions, one would hope the scrutiny candidates will face in these contested Senate races will be intense enough to prevent them from getting away with that kind of evasion and pin them down on the true implications of their stated position.