In December, 2015, the United States Senate passed a reconciliation bill that would have defunded major portions of Obamacare. The bill passed with the support of 52 Republican Senators, including Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.
The bill would have repealed Obamacare with no replacement plan. At best, the vote was an on-the-record opposition to the Affordable Care Act and at worst it was a political stunt. The Republicans knew President Obama would veto the bill, so their statement against Obamacare would have no real consequences.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Jim Capretta wrote, “It was obvious in 2015 that the repeal and delay bill was never going to become law, and so it was a way for the GOP to voice dissatisfaction with the ACA without having to replace its key provisions.”
But some Republicans and conservatives who have long opposed Obamacare took that vote as a stated conviction to repeal. Replacement was not nearly as critical as the abolition of the hated Obama/Democratic healthcare dictum.
The circumstances changed with the election of Donald Trump. Capito and several other Senate Republicans, who were comfortable with the 2015 symbolic vote, flinched at the prospect of passing a bill they knew Trump would sign.
Capito balked at the Senate’s replacement because it cut Medicaid and didn’t include enough money for drug treatment. She also stated her opposition to a simple repeal. “I don’t think that it’s a responsible way to repeal something, have everything fall off a cliff in two years, have more people uninsured, (and) have no plan in front of us,” Capito said on Talkline Thursday.
Her position has stirred up conservative voices. The Club for Growth and the Tea Party Patriots have launched a website called Traitorous Republicans where they single out Capito, Lisa Murkowski and Rob Portman. “They got to Washington on that promise (repeal Obamacare)… and now they are betraying their constituents by joining with Democrats to defeat Obamacare repeal efforts.”
West Virginians for Life and the Family Policy Council of West Virginia issued a joint news release accusing Capito of a “flip-flop” on Obamacare repeal. “She made promises as a senatorial candidate and our organizations endorsed her and then West Virginia voters gave their support to her and other Republicans in part because of their opposition to Obamacare,” said West Virginia for Life president Wanda Franz. “Her failure to support repeal would be an abandonment of those voters.”
When I asked Capito about the criticisms from the right, she held fast. “I’m doing what I think is right and responsible and I’m going to continue to do that,” she said. Her office pointed to the new Congressional Budget Office report showing an Obamacare repeal without a replacement would increase the number of people without health insurance to 32 million and double insurance premiums in the exchanges by 2026.
Meanwhile, President Trump has challenged Senators to not give up on repeal and replace, and a number of Senate Republicans, including Capito, met for several hours Wednesday night to try to find a compromise. That could be a win-win for the Republicans, but it’s also a long shot.
Capito’s position will cost her support from the most conservative wing of her party, but that segment has always been wary of her anyway because she is a moderate. She has consistently advocated “repeal and replace,” and that gives her some safe harbor as the right tries to tag her as an apostate.