It’s being hailed as the first victory of the resistance.
Friday’s seeming death blow to the efforts to repeal Obamacare has invigorated progressives in the Bay Area and beyond.
With Democrats unified in opposing Donald Trump’s agenda, and Republicans so far unable to capitalize on their Congressional majority, the country’s rightward shift has run smack into a wall — and not the one the president hopes to build. The question now for the Trump resistance: Did it simply win a skirmish, or a decisive battle in a four-year war?
“The number of people’s voices that were saying ‘stop taking our health care away’ has been unlike anything many of us have seen in a very, very long time,” said Rachel Linn-Gish, a spokeswoman for Health Access California, a nonprofit health advocacy group.
“The fact that we were able to organize our voices like we did in unity only bodes well for all the other efforts’’ heading toward activists, she said.
Anna Galland, the Chicago-based executive director of MoveOn.org, a progressive public policy advocacy group and political action committee, agreed.
“This is absolutely a major milestone and significant win for the resistance movement,’’ said Galland, whose group claims eight million members across the nation, including at least 700,000 in California.
“But we know that we may not have long to celebrate before the next battle.’’
That much is certain. While the giddiest California liberals are allowing themselves to ponder parlaying their health care win into successful efforts to block tax cuts, protect social services and curb greenhouse gases, others realize that the factors that propelled last week’s success may be hard to replicate.
For one thing, entitlements like social security, Medicare and now Obamacare — once established — are tough to take back.
“That’s always been the case,’’ said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior scholar at the University of Southern California.
“Even the Republicans have to recognize that it’s very difficult to take away something that has already been giving to someone and has been used positively by someone,’’ she said.
Those who complain mightily about the increase in costs, she said, see the issue very differently than those who received health care through the Affordable Care Act, insurance they could not afford before. The political calculus will be quite different when the Republicans are pushing to hand out tax cuts or build a border wall.
And Republicans insist that if they can cure their dysfunction, even health care reform might move back onto the national stage, sooner than many expect.
Galland is preparing for just such a faceoff.
“We understand Trumpcare as a zombie that we will have to kill again and again,” she said, “every time it lurches out of the grave.”
Galland believes MoveOn is up to the task. In early May, just before the House voted on its controversial replacement for the Affordable Care Act, MoveOn commissioned planes and mobile billboards carrying a “Don’t Take Away Our Health Care” message to fly over GOP offices around the country, including the California district offices of Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach; David Valadao, R-Hanford, and Steve Knight, R-Palmdale. The House passed its replacement, but the resistance found its voice.
Others are more worried about what Trump and the GOP could do to sabotage the current law, by not enforcing the so-called individual mandate that requires everyone to purchase insurance, not publicizing the sign-up period to buy insurance through health care exchanges, and cutting millions in cost-sharing subsidies for low-income Obamacare enrollees.
Early Friday, Trump continued his threats against the health care law, tweeting that “3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!”
But Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College, said that could backfire on the GOP.
“You can tweet whatever you want, and he can do all those things, but then the people who are hurt will be blaming the Republicans,” she said. “Even if it’s still called Obamacare, he will get the blame and his party will get the blame.”
And as they prepare for more clashes ahead, political observers say the resistance groups ought to remember this: What caused the Senate to vote the way it did over the past week weren’t appeals from the left or the right.
“There’s no question that the progressive movement made loud and forceful arguments, but it was the political center that brought the bill down,’’ said Dan Schnur, a former GOP political consultant and one-time communications director in Sen. John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign.
If Republicans are going to be more successful in the next round of policy fights, he said, the center is who they should be focusing on.
Bottom line: Though weakened, the GOP can’t be counted out, analysts say.
Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, remains reluctant to call the vote a victory for the resistance.
“Not unless Lisa Murkowski, John McCain and Susan Collins were part of the resistance, which they are not,’’ he said of the three Senators who voted with their Democratic colleagues across the aisle to halt the health care debate.
“They are listening to constituents, mainly on the Medicaid side of things — it’s not that they are in love with Obamacare,’’ he said. He characterized the problem for all three as “an adventure into the great unknown — but there was no replacement.’’
Moreover, Whalen noted, Trump rarely went on the road to sell the replacement plans that were proposed.
So while it was a defeat, there is a teachable moment if Trump and the GOP Congress are willing to learn a lesson.
Among other things, Whalen said, several red states that voted for Trump have Democratic senators facing re-election in 2018.
Their votes to keep Obamacare may make them easier targets for Republican challengers. And if the GOP majority Senate gains a wider margin after 2018, Whalen said, upcoming votes to repeal Obamacare — or cut taxes, or overturn climate-change mandates — may play out very differently.
Resistance movement’ buoyed by Senate healthcare vote