Ahead of a Republican-led House vote Wednesday to try to repeal ‘Obamacare’ for the 33rd time, House Democrats expressed a growing sense of optimism that their biggest achievement in a generation is here to stay, invoking the lessons of history.
“This [law] is alive and well and has a big future,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told TPM in her Capitol Hill office, during a discussion with a handful of reporters and bloggers. “I knew it would pass, I knew it would be upheld and I know it will survive.”
Energized by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, as well as recent polling indicating a favorable swing in public opinion, Democrats are less worried about the fierce, unabated conservative push to repeal the law.
“I think what has occurred was entirely predictable,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told TPM. “This was a massive overhaul of over one-seventh of the national economy. And the history of major things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid is that it takes time to sink in. Social Security was not wildly popular at the time. And Medicaid was not adopted by all the states until 1982.”
“The American public — the more they see this, the better they like it, the more support there is,” Blumenauer said. He posited that Republicans are holding futile repeal votes to keep conservatives energized given their lack of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney.
Pelosi rattled off the benefits already in place — including 5 million seniors who are paying less for Medicare prescription drugs, 17 million children with preexisting conditions who are now guaranteed coverage, and 6.6 million young adults insured via a parent’s policy.
She predicted the 14-point swing in the law’s favor since April, according to a Washington Post/ABC survey, will continue “as people see what this is without the fog of the misrepresentations — flat out and out mischaracterizations — of what the bill is.”
The bad news for Democrats is that if Republicans win the White House and Senate majority in the November elections, they’ll have the tools to gut major pieces of law, if not roll it back entirely. Mitt Romney has promised full repeal. Pelosi demurred when asked how Democrats might fight such an effort, forecasting that such a situation won’t come to pass.
Although Social Security and Medicare won over some Republican votes, unlike the Affordable Care Act, the nature of the conservative opposition was remarkably similar, with warning signs about a tyrannical government threatening freedom.
In the 1960s, Ronald Regan teamed up with the American Medical Association to warn that if Medicare were to pass, “you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”
Rep. Jim McDermott (WA), the only physician in the Democratic conference, recalled that era. “If you look at Medicare — I was in medical school in 1963 just before it was passed. The American Medical Association … said over and over again, this is the end of medicine in this country, it’s socialism, oh it’s communism, it’s terrible,” he said. “But it went through.”
Going further back, in 1935, Republican Rep. John Taber said of the Social Security Act, “Never in the history of the world has any measure been brought here so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers and to prevent any possibility of the employers providing work for the people.”
The fierce early resistance to Social Security and Medicare gave way to acceptance and, eventually, embrace. Today the two programs are deeply embedded in the fabric of American society and conservative efforts to unwind them have failed. Democrats are optimistic that the Affordable Care Act will enjoy a similar fate.
“Will it be fought? Sure it’ll be fought,” McDermott said. “In a democracy, nothing is ever done. … It’s an evolutionary process that is never finished. What we’re trying to do right now is move forward. And there’ll be forces that want to push us back. … So we’ll keep moving forward. It’s never in a straight line, it’s never fast, but it never stops moving forward. That’s the process we’re in. And right now we’re moving backward. But the people aren’t going to stand for that very long.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.