There are occasions in American politics when brewing issues foam up to the point where the public becomes angry and impassioned. Politicians end up on the rhetorical firing line.
Two examples in my career stand out. One occurred in the mid-1980s at an Elkhart Baptist church. Conservative activist Eric Miller invited legislative candidates, had them stand on an “X” taped to the floor, and each candidate was encircled by folks who were firing off torrents of angry questions. One participant found the experience rattling.
The second occurred in August 2009. Then U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly hosted a town hall in Kokomo. It was a sweltering evening, the event was moved outside to accommodate the several hundred folks who showed up, and Donnelly took a barrage of questions as what we know as Obamacare was beginning to take form. The glint of the sun was so bright that I loaned Donnelly my Ray-Bans, which he wore for a few moments, then returned to me figuring the loss of eye contact could be misconstrued. Donnelly voted for Obamacare in March 2010, won reelection, and then a U.S. Senate seat in 2012.
Donnelly will face reelection in 2018 and two of his potential opponents, U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, were two of at least five Hoosier members of Congress who didn’t do town halls during the congressional recess last week. Rookie U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth told the News & Tribune that he prefers “meaningful, individual dialogue.” U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, who had scheduled only one town hall since she took office in 2013, was pressed by the South Bend Tribune and declined comment. Messer has held more than 200 public forums in recent years, but not this particular week.
Why the dodge? Because a number of their colleagues spread across the nation found themselves in the kind of “firing lines” described above, all amplified by cable news. It comes as a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds support for Obamacare nationally up to 48 percent, with 42 percent opposed. Part of that may be because President Obama is out of office. The Affordable Care Act was branded “Obamacare,” which was probably a mistake.
In the Indiana context, we are beginning to understand the reason for firing line reticence. At the mid-way point of the Indiana General Assembly, Republicans Senate President David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma both warned that the repeal of Obamacare could boot up to 420,000 Hoosiers off the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0.
“If they go back … that’s going to have to cause us to recalibrate HIP 2.0. There’s no question about it,” Long said on Wednesday about President Trump and congressional Republican plans to repeal Obamacare. “The number of people on the program? That could be affected. We really don’t know what we’re facing right now.”
Bosma told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, “We’ll have to re-evaluate the HIP 2.0 program and the number of clients it serves, the state’s support for it. I’m not saying it would go away, but certainly a major portion of the funding for that is no longer available. So we’ll have to take a hard look at the program. Perhaps something will change at the federal level and we’ll have to hit the panic button and reorganize, but I doubt any change will be during this biennial budget.”
The federal government through Obamacare will pay $16.5 billion of an estimated $18 billion cost from 2015 to 2021 in offer health coverage via HIP 2.0. The state contributes the rest through cigarette tax revenue and a hospital assessment fee. It’s actually a pretty good deal for the state. And Vice President Mike Pence, who created HIP 2.0, noted that while he was governor, the program actually became a concentrated service point for the opioid/heroin HIV epidemic that hit Scott County.
Gov. Eric Holcomb told me in December that legislators might have a “mid-course correction” once the Trump administration’s policy intents became clear. On Monday, Holcomb met with President Trump and Vice President Pence, who has been on rally point for the Obamacare repeal. Holcomb told the IndyStar on Monday after attending the National Governors Association, “We’ll run the numbers when we know what the equation looks like. There are a lot of different factors. What we are seeking as states, as Republican governors, is more control to have a better handle on cost.”
Reps. Messer, Rokita, Walorski and Hollingsworth have been fanning the Obamacare repeal flames for years now. And as actor Roy Schneider would say in the movie “All That Jazz,” well, “It’s showtime!”
What is that “replace” thing going to look like after the repeal? How many of the 420,000 Hoosiers on HIP 2.0 will still have coverage?
These members of Congress are public servants. If they’re afraid to face their constituents, perhaps they’re in the wrong line of work.
Yes, Obamacare is flawed. Congress should have been evolving it over the past six years. Now we’re on the precipice of repeal?
Soooooo, what comes next? It’s showtime!
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.