There was a time, when he was in office, when President Obama actively avoided making public statements about legislation that was the subject of tough partisan fights. He and his aides had become convinced that the Republican base’s intense dislike of him made it difficult for GOP lawmakers to support anything that he appeared to be in favor of.
The post-presidential Barack Obama appears to have no such qualms. On Thursday afternoon, just a few hours after Senate Republicans released a draft version of their proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the former president weighed in with a lengthy defense of his signature domestic achievement on Facebook.
As unusual as it is for a former president to actively insert himself into the debate over pending legislation, Obama’s decision to go directly at lawmakers whose core voter base still regards him with something bordering on hatred was even more surprising.
“I still hope that there are enough Republicans in Congress who remember that public service is not about sport or notching a political win, that there’s a reason we all chose to serve in the first place, and that hopefully, it’s to make people’s lives better, not worse,” he wrote.
Obama was responding to a Republican plan that most analysts believe would dramatically reduce the number of Americans who have health insurance over the next decade, while at the same time driving up costs and lowering the level of coverage for many who continue to purchase policies through the ACA’s insurance exchanges. The plan would also repeal several taxes that the ACA put in place, which would result in major tax breaks for the wealthy and for insurance and medical device companies.
“The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill,” the former president wrote. “It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else.”
He added, “Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.”
The use of the word “meanness” was almost certainly a deliberate reference to reports from last week about President Trump declaring that the House-passed version of the bill is too “mean.”
Obama appeared to nod to a belief common among Democrats: That there is a large element of the GOP that wants to undo the ACA simply because it was passed by Democrats and signed by a Democratic president.
“I recognize that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has become a core tenet of the Republican Party. Still, I hope that our Senators, many of whom I know well, step back and measure what’s really at stake, and consider that the rationale for action, on health care or any other issue, must be something more than simply undoing something that Democrats did.”
Republicans, obviously, argue that their opposition to the ACA is policy-based, not a result of partisan animus.
The Senate version of the bill will have to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office, something that could happen early next week. The proposal, which may not have enough support among Senate Republicans to pass, would also have to be reconciled with a House version before it could be sent to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law.