(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
Opinion writer

Despite all the attention we in Washington pay to the Russia scandal and the Trump administration’s immigration policies and the president’s latest antics (for perfectly good reasons), polls have repeatedly shown that when you ask voters what they care about most in considering their vote for Congress this fall, the most-commonly-mentioned issue is health care.

And Republicans have set a health-care time bomb that is going to explode in their faces just in time for the November elections.

Oral arguments are now scheduled in federal court for Sept. 10 in a lawsuit brought by a group of conservative states, led by Texas, that seeks to strike down the Affordable Care Act. You’d think that after the debacle they suffered last year when Republicans in Congress tried to repeal the ACA, they would have learned their lesson. But they’re storming ahead, and Republicans running for Congress are going to pay the price.

The lawsuit makes a claim that could charitably be called audacious. Since Congress eliminated the ACA’s penalty for not carrying health insurance coverage, it says, the individual mandate has become invalid. (Right now the mandate is still in place, but the penalty for violating it is $0.) And if the mandate is invalid, they argue, then the entire law must be struck down, including the ability of people to stay on their parents’ insurance, the protection for people with pre-existing conditions, the expansion of Medicaid that is now providing coverage to millions, the ban on yearly and lifetime limits on coverage — everything. (If you want details, there’s an explanation here.)

This is the position taken by 19 Republican-run states and supported by the Trump administration. You don’t have to be a political-consulting genius to write the ads. “This is Darcy Cutebutton. She’s 9 years old. She survived cancer, and she’s still fighting. But now Donald Trump and our congressman, Hal Heartless, want to take away her health coverage. Tell Congressman Heartless that if he wants to do that to Darcy, come election day we’re going to stop him.”

Or, here’s a real-life version:

We don’t know yet how much coverage this lawsuit is going to get — the president does have a way of monopolizing the news — but you can bet that Democrats are going to use it as a bludgeon against every Republican running for Congress this year.

Republicans have a response, though: After we repeal the ACA, we’ll restore all the things you like about it!

Mike Braun, the Republican nominee for Senate in Indiana, supports the lawsuit, but says that after it does away with the ACA, Republicans must “be ready to come back and talk about what you’re ready to do about pre-existing conditions and no limits on coverage.”

Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia, who is running against Sen. Joe Manchin III, is a party to the lawsuit. “You can believe that some of the pieces, helping those who need it most, are good but still have a lawsuit to get rid of the awful policy of Obamacare,” he says.

Does that sound familiar? Of course it does. For years, Republicans talked about “repeal and replace” — just elect us, they said, and we’ll get rid of that nasty Obamacare and replace it with something that does all the things about Obamacare that you like — but that isn’t Obamacare. In 2014, they aired hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ads attacking the law and making this promise.

But somehow, along the way they completely forgot to come up with a plan for the “replace” part. Then when they found themselves with total control of government after the 2016 election, their attempt to follow up on their promise was a catastrophe — just a couple of hearings, a plan slapped together in secret, a huge public backlash and, ultimately, complete failure.

So now, Republicans are in effect saying, let’s do that over again, but in this case, instead of repealing the ACA in Congress, we’ll have the courts do it. And then we’ll come up with a replacement plan that will be, in President Trump’s immortal words, “something terrific.” We don’t know what that “something” is, but we’ll figure it out. Eventually. In the meantime, try not to get sick.

When Democrats start beating them over the head with this issue, Republicans will protest that the attacks are unfair. We really do want to protect people with pre-existing conditions, they’ll say, even though we support a lawsuit that seeks to take that protection away. And somehow, they expect the voters to believe them.