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Obamacare-repeal vote: What’s at stake for Minnesota’s House Republicans

Their votes are a foregone conclusion, but each representative faces different pressures in one of the defining moments of the 115th Congress.

Protesters demonstrating outside the White House on Thursday.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Today is the biggest day for congressional Republicans in years: this afternoon, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the American Health Care Act, their chance — seven years in the making — to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a law of their own.

Republicans have run — and won — on this promise every election cycle since 2010. Now, with unified control of government in D.C., they have their chance to make good on it.

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But their bill is on life-support as it hurtles toward a monumental vote on the House floor, and it’s not because of Democrats: for a hard-line faction in the House GOP, the bill is too moderate, “Obamacare Lite” in sheep’s clothing. For a group of Republican moderates, the bill is too conservative for them to support.

That’s produced a real rarity on Capitol Hill: utter ambiguity as to whether a bill that comes to the floor will pass — much less a bill with the potential to define this Congress, and the Republicans who serve in it. It’s possible the AHCA could pass, but it seems likely it could fail, and there’s even a chance it could be pulled before it even reaches the floor, forcing the GOP back to the drawing board. [Update: GOP leadership, spurred on by President Trump, pulled the bill on Friday afternoon as it became clear there was not enough support. In a press conference, Speaker Ryan did not say there were plans to revive the bill in the near future.]

But there’s no uncertainty among Minnesota’s three Republican House members: all are expected to vote yes on the AHCA. Whatever happens, the GOP reform effort could significantly impact the political fortunes of each of them.

Leadership’s man

The man with the most to lose today is 3rd District Rep. Erik Paulsen. The Eden Prairie Republican is on the Ways and Means Committee, the tax-writing committee with a lot of sway on health policy, and he has talked for years about getting rid of Obamacare, on the stump and in the capitol.

Rep. Erik Paulsen
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Rep. Erik Paulsen

What’s more, Paulsen is a strong backer and a friend of Speaker Paul Ryan. The former Ways and Means chairman is looking like he’s betting it all on the AHCA, and he’s counting on good soldiers like Paulsen to go to bat for him. Paulsen has spent the week tweeting cheery talking points about the bill from his official account — one of which got over 500 overwhelmingly critical replies.

Paulsen voted for the AHCA in Ways and Means earlier this month. Because of that, he’s already tied to it, even if it falls on the House floor today.

If it passes, Paulsen will have to answer for it back home, which could be trouble. Hillary Clinton won the 3rd District by ten points in 2016. Paulsen won big in his own race, but if public opinion turns against the AHCA — it’s already polling at an abysmal 17 percent nationally, per Quinnipiac — that could spell big trouble for him in the 2018 midterm.

A model produced by FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s political data journalism outlet, estimates that just 10 percent of people in CD3 strongly support the AHCA, while 41 percent of people strongly oppose.

Lewis: failure to pass is ‘dereliction of duty’

Today is the most important day in Rep. Jason Lewis’ young political career so far. It could end up being the most important one, period.

The former talk radio jock from Woodbury pulled off an unlikely win against Angie Craig in 2016 on a platform centered around repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Lewis serves on the House Budget Committee, where he voted to advance a version of the AHCA, so like Paulsen, he’s already tied to this bill in a lasting sense.

Since then, Lewis has been whipping fellow GOP freshmen to vote in favor of the bill. MinnPost caught up with Lewis on Friday, where he said that not passing the AHCA would be a “dereliction of duty.”

Rep. Jason Lewis
MinnPost photo by Steve Date
Rep. Jason Lewis

“This is what I came here to do, and I’m going to do it,” Lewis said. He expressed disappointment with his Republican colleagues to his right and left who aren’t backing the bill. “This is almost a quintessential case of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good, I would argue very good,” he said.

If the AHCA passes and becomes more unpopular, Lewis has a similar problem as Paulsen: though CD2 narrowly went for Donald Trump, the FiveThirtyEight model places opposition to the AHCA at a similarly strong level as CD3.

Paulsen and Lewis have both gambled — big — that backing the AHCA will play well in their districts, making it worth the risk. But given their loyalties, committee posts, and campaign promises, they were under pressure to support it to begin with.

If the AHCA doesn’t pass, Paulsen and Lewis will have to explain to constituents why they couldn’t make good on promises to reform health care. If it does pass, their fortunes hinge on how well those constituents receive the law.

Emmer, team player

Rep. Tom Emmer has the least to lose, in any event. Emmer has grown into a consummate team player in D.C., and reliably votes with GOP leadership, which he is close to as a member of the influential Steering Committee. Donald Trump’s White House has also enthusiastically backed the AHCA — the president is basically daring the House to not pass the bill — and Emmer is the most vocal Minnesotan Trump supporter in D.C., so his support of the health care bill makes perfect sense.

Rep. Tom Emmer
MinnPost photo by Jana Freiband
Rep. Tom Emmer

Like Lewis, Emmer has been wheedling members and whipping votes for AHCA. Friday morning on the House floor, Emmer had an animated conversation with Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, the deeply conservative bloc opposing the bill.

Unlike Paulsen and Lewis, Emmer doesn’t have a competitive seat. Whatever happens, he likely won’t have to answer for it in November. But if it does pass, GOP leadership — and by extension, Emmer — will look good, at least in the short term.

The big caveat here is that other branch of Congress, the U.S. Senate, where the AHCA in its present form is all but dead on arrival. GOP senators, from moderates like Maine Sen. Susan Collins to conservatives like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, have said they don’t support it, and there are enough in opposition to ensure the AHCA would be toast.

House GOP leadership, though, just wants to get the thing out of their chamber, and worry about reconciling House and Senate differences later — even if the Senate’s changes would make the bill even more unpalatable to House conservatives. They may not get that far.

Correction: This article previously misstated which presidential candidate won the 2nd Congressional District.