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Why the GOP sticks with an unpopular health bill, in one revealing quote

“We won.”

FBI Director Comey Testifies At Hearing On Alleged Russian Election Meddling Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Congressional Republicans keep pushing forward on a health care bill that, by all measures, is very unpopular. A Quinnipiac poll late last month found that only 20 percent of the public support the American Health Care Act.

The Republican plan polls much worse than the Affordable Care Act, which was never that popular to begin with. Legislators have faced significant blowback during recess, including raucous town halls. Conservative health care experts don’t like the bill, and senators have difficulty answering questions about what it will achieve.

So why do Republicans keep persisting with their health care bill? I attended a breakfast with a Republican member of Congress this morning who gave a pretty frank answer. They are moving forward with Obamacare repeal because they believe their base will stick with them and that they don’t need to pay too much attention to the protesters, this member of Congress said. Here’s how this person thought about the recent barrage of calls his office has received:

The way I look at is there is no question we're getting inundated with calls and emails and protests. There is all this energy and anger on the left. The people who lost are the ones who are angry. We won the entire elected government. So I remind my staff after a long day of hostile calls, it was less than six months we got more votes than a person on the other side in [my state]. The people who voted for me are still out there.

We also spoke a bit about the political odds for the repeal bill in the Senate and whether the bill would pass this week. The member of Congress thought it looked dicey, but that Republicans would ultimately fall in line because they’ve made this campaign promise for so many years now:

I don't know whether we're going to get to 50 or not. One thing I would suggest, if you think about the Senators that have heartburn about this, and you go down the list and look at the states they're from, it will be hard for a lot of people to vote no. ... I definitely don't like everything. I'm probably going to support it. It's going to be really hard to explain to your Republican constituents who elected you that you couldn't support the thing you've been campaigning on.

The argument here is that Republicans promised for years to repeal and replace Obamacare. It is now their duty to listen to the people who supported that promise, regardless of whatever blowback comes their way.

What this view misses, however, is that the American Health Care Act isn’t exactly popular with Republican voters. The latest Quinnipiac poll finds only 42 percent of Republicans support the bill.

The bill isn’t popular because it is not the bill that Republican legislators promised. Members of Congress, for example, repeatedly criticized Affordable Care Act plan deductibles that were too high. But the American Health Care Act would cause deductibles to go up, not down. And if early reporting is right on the Senate bill, their proposal will have a similar outcome.

Repealing and replacing Obamacare is a very big, broad promise. It could mean all sorts of things to enrollees. But generally most Obamacare enrollees who vote Republican who I’ve talked to took the promise to mean, “my health care costs will go down.” And under the Republican plans we’ve seen so far, that will not be the case for most people who rely on the health law’s programs.

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