With their party majority in extreme peril in November’s midterm elections, House Republicans are facing a dilemma. While they ran on a pledge to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, support for Obamacare now far exceeds support for the GOP-controlled Congress. Several incumbents have employed a bold strategy: hide the evidence of their position.
ThinkProgress examined the campaign websites of dozens of Republican incumbents in races deemed competitive by the Cook Political Report. More than 30 of those candidates omit mention of Obamacare repeal on their main page and any issues sections. But the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine reveals that on at least 14 of those candidates did explicitly mention their intention to gut the law on their 2016 campaign sites.
All of these lawmakers but two voted to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance via the American Health Care Act — known as TrumpCare. One of the holdouts, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ), said at the time that while he opposed the specific legislation, he remained “committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare.” The other, Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), reaffirmed he would “always keep an open mind on working to repeal the federal government-controlled healthcare system and replace it with a patient centered bill that has real reforms and makes health care more accessible and affordable to all Ohio families.”
The list includes:
- Rep. Andy Barr (KY-6). In 2016, his site said “Obamacare has been a failure for the many Kentuckians who lost their insurance despite the President’s promise that if you ‘like your plan, you can keep your plan.’ … Because the first step to fixing our broken health care system is to stop Obamacare, I have voted dozens of times to repeal the law in part or in full. I also supported the use of budget reconciliation to bypass the Senate filibuster and put repeal legislation on the President’s desk for the first time.” Today, this language has been repealed and replaced by a health care section that mentions Barr’s support for opioid prevention and treatment, and a bill that aimed to accelerate pharmaceutical development.
- Rep. Bruce Poliquin (ME-2). In 2016, he promised to “End Obamacare and Replace with Free Market Solution to Improve Health Care.” Today, his health care page talks about “protecting our hospitals” and Maine’s health care access.
- Rep. David Joyce (OH-14). He had no issues page then or now, but his 2016 site boasted on the front page that he “has fought to repeal and defund ‘Obamacare’ every chance he’s had. Dave Joyce has voted to defund, repeal or delay Obamacare every chance he’s had, 30+ times.” This language is no longer present, and his site now asserts that Rep. Joyce “has been a strong advocate in the fight against the opioid epidemic…. He is working to convince Congress and the Administration, to treat this epidemic as the national emergency it is.”
- Rep. Fred Upton (MI-6). In 2016, Upton bragged of being “a national leader in the fight against the President’s controversial healthcare law. Rather than massively expanding the size and reach of the federal government, Fred supports thoughtful reforms to bring down healthcare costs and protect the doctor-patient relationship, such as tort reform, allowing consumers to purchase health insurance across state lines, and preventing insurance companies the ability to deny service based on pre-existing conditions.” Today, Upton instead calls himself a “common-sense voice when it comes to the heated health care debates” and a champion of “bipartisan legislation that meets the unique needs of each individual.”
- Rep. Jack Bergman (MI-1). The 2016 edition of Bergman’s campaign site stated that the “number one priority of the next Congress must be to repeal Obamacare. We need real and effective healthcare reform that empowers citizens to make their own healthcare decisions, not bureaucrats and politicians.” Though this has not happened, the issue has vanished and the lone health topic on his current page is his commitment to a “comprehensive approach” to the opioid epidemic.
- Rep. John Carter (TX-31). “I will not apologize for continually voting to delay, defund, and dismantle Obamacare. I have voted for the Keep Your Health Plan Act, which enables patients to keep their existing health plans and physicians for an additional year,” Carter wrote on his 2016 campaign’s issue page. While his 2018 site contains no apology, it also contains no mention of Obamacare or health care in general.
- Rep. John Culberson (TX-7). Two years ago, Culberson’s website said: “When President Obama and then-speaker Pelosi rammed Obamacare through Congress, they famously said that we’d have to ‘pass it to find out what’s in it.’ We’ve found out what’s in it, and the American people aren’t buying what they’re selling. I voted against it then, and I’ve voted to repeal it at every opportunity.” He promised he would “continue to work to repeal Obamacare and replace it with free-market, patient-centered reforms that lower your health care costs.” His old site said “millions [of people] are unsure of how, exactly, Obamacare will hurt them,” but today, the closest he comes to a health section is a promise to “protect” the Texas Medical Center and increase spending on medical and scientific research.
- Rep. Kevin Yoder (KS-3). “We must repeal Obamacare and replace it with bipartisan legislation that would reform our system to focus on ensuring that everyone in our country – regardless of pre-existing conditions – would have access to affordable care without limiting patient choice or the quality of care,” Yoder’s 2016 site urged. His 2018 site ditched those specifics to simply say that he is “saving American health care” by increasing medical research funding, voting for “choice and competition in the private health insurance marketplace,” and protecting Medicare.
- Rep. Lee Zeldin (NY-1). Zeldin listed among his 2016 site’s accomplishments that he’d “[s]ecured full Congressional passage for the first time of legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare (H.R. 3762), which was then vetoed by the President.” Now the “improving healthcare in America” section on his site talks up his work to fight heroin addiction, renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and improve research on Lyme Disease.
- Rep. Leonard Lance (NJ-7). His 2016 site said that because he’s “a member of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, Leonard Lance is on the front-lines in the fight to repeal and replace ObamaCare with sensible measures that include allowing insurance to be sold across state lines, improving health savings accounts (HSAs), establishing Association Health Plans (AHP) insurance pools and enacting real medical malpractice reform.” His 2018 page contains a virtually identical paragraph, but replaces “on the front-lines in the fight to repeal and replace ObamaCare” with “leading the fight for real Health Care Reform.”
- Rep. Mike Bishop (MI-8). Two years ago, his campaign site had a “Repeal Obamacare” section that said, “Mike Bishop has fought against Obamacare from the start. Mike Bishop will vigorously fight against Obamacare.” Today, it does not — the only mention of health care issues is a paragraph on “curbing opioids.”
- Rep. Ted Budd (NC-13). The 2016 edition of Budd’s campaign site listed his desire to repeal the health care bill among the reasons he was running: “Our federal government is too big, plain and simple. Excessive debt, red tape, and taxes stifle job growth. Look no further than Obamacare for a stifling, big-government program that is wreaking havoc on our economy and health care. I will do everything I can to repeal every word of Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered reforms.” Today, there is no mention of health care, beyond a bill to give care providers “resources to encourage safer use of prescription opioids.”
- Rep. Tim Walberg (MI-7). “President Obama’s health care law is broken and should be replaced with patient-centered, free-market solutions. – Tim Walberg,” appeared at the top of his 2016 section on health care policy. In 2018, that quote has been replaced: “Developing cures for diseases, combating the drug addiction epidemic, protecting people with pre-existing conditions, and making healthcare more affordable are all important, life-touching priorities,” the site now says.
- Rep. Tom MacArthur (NJ-3). In 2016, his campaign issues page stated that “Tom will work to repeal Obamacare, but won’t stop there. Tom believes government has a role in shaping our healthcare system. He supports free market solutions that reduce costs, allow people to keep their doctors, and moves us away from a one-size-fits-all, government-controlled approach. Tom will draw on his nearly 30 years of experience in the insurance industry to work with members of both parties and experts in the field to fix what’s broken with our health insurance system.” His 2018 site acknowledges that “the Affordable Care Act (ACA) helped millions of people.” While he criticizes aspects of it, he misleadingly claims that he “opposed his own party’s efforts at a speedy Obamacare repeal, but when that failed he rolled up his sleeves and worked to improve access to care for millions of Americans without quality care.” Despite voting against starting the Obamacare repeal process in January 2017, MacArthur voted for Trumpcare just four months later.
Rep. Randy Hultgren (IL-14) was slightly ahead of the curve. While his 2014 site said he was “dedicated the overturning one of the worst laws in American history and voted for its repeal on his first day in Congress,” that promise was gone by 2016, replaced with a misleading claim of fighting “against Obamacare’s drastic gutting of Medicare by $700 billion.”
While these House Republicans have clearly been very intentional in their efforts to downplay Obamacare repeal, that does not mean they have abandoned their plans to keep trying to eliminate the law. The Hill reported on Wednesday that Congressional Republicans plan to try again should they hold their majorities in the House and Senate in November. And Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday “We made an effort to fully repeal and replace Obamacare. And we’ll continue.”
UPDATE (9/18/18 11:06 a.m.): An earlier version of this story included Rep. Steve Chabot (OH-1) on the list of Republican House incumbents who had scrubbed their issues page. Since publication, he has posted a new issues page that includes his desire to repeal Obamacare.