Will the Republicans pay an electoral price for AHCA?

Yes, if we live in a remotely just world.  Of course, I’m far from convinced that we do (one of the primary reasons I’m a Democrat).

That said, pretty much the coolest thing last week was to see my name coming up in columns from Nate Silver and Nate Cohn about a possible electoral penalty for Republicans.  First, Silver:

In 2010, Democrats who voted for Obamacare paid a huge price in the midterms. Just how big a price? A 2011 study by FiveThirtyEight contributor Seth Masket and another political scientist, Steven Greene, found that Democrats who voted for Obamacare lost 6.6 to 7.6 percentage points of the vote, depending on which model they used. Note, however, that these totals refer to the share of the vote the Democrat lost and not to the margin that the Democrat had against the Republican. Since third-party candidates are rarely major factors in House races, almost every vote the Democrat loses is one the Republican gains. Thus, the effect on the Democrat’s margin against the Republican was roughly twice that — 13 to 15 percentage points. That’s a huge effect; it means that a Democrat who was on track to cruise to re-election by 12 points would lose if they’d voted for Obamacare.

later study by Masket, Greene and three other researchers found impacts of a similar magnitude, estimating a 5.8 percentage point Obamacare effect on the Democrat’s vote share using one technique, and an 8.5-point effect using another. Again, these are vote shares, not vote margins. (We usually think in terms of margins here at FiveThirtyEight). The margins would be roughly twice as high — in the range of 12- to 17-point penalty for a Democrat who voted for Obamacare.

If Republican members should suffer a similar penalty for voting for the AHCA — somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 points — it could put dozens of GOP-held seats in play. Some 33 Republicans won their seats by 14 percentage points or less in 20161; of those, 27 voted for the AHCA. [emphasis mine]

That’s a hell of an “if” and it’s predicated on all sorts of goings-on over the next 18 months, but it does suggest that voting the wrong way on a major piece of legislation that stays highly politically relevant certainly can matter.

After writing an MPSA paper with Seth, we combined forces with Brendan Nyhan, Eric McGhee, and John Sides (and I have to be honest, and admit my very much secondary role in this combined effort).  Cohn discusses this study in a recent Upshot:

study by the political scientists Brendan Nyhan, Eric McGhee, John Sides, Seth Masket and Steven Greene showed that the Democrats who voted against the A.C.A. outperformed those who voted for it by a net 10 to 15 points in 2010. (Mr. Nyhan is an Upshot contributor.) Our estimates are lower, at around 5 to 10 points, in part because many of the Democratic A.C.A. opponents fared particularly well in the 2008 elections, but it’s a considerable effect either way. (Our estimates are based on the results of recent congressional and presidential elections by district, member ideology and whether the candidates voted for the A.C.A.)…

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Democrats would have done 5 to 10 points better in the 2010 midterm elections if they had never pursued the Affordable Care Act. It just means that the members who didn’t vote for it did better than those who did. It’s a subtle distinction, but there is a difference: In a tough national environment in 2010, Democrats who voted against the A.C.A. found it easier to distinguish themselves from the national party.

The House Democrats who did vote for the A.C.A. were punished for it in a particular way, too. They struggled to do much better than recent Democratic presidential candidate, whatever their performance in recent elections. The Democrats who voted against the A.C.A., on the other hand, outperformed.

These results tell a pretty clear story about who could be hurt the most this midterm: the Republicans who ran well ahead of the national party in 2016 but who voted for the A.H.C.A. and were subsequently seen as no different from Donald J. Trump. On the other hand, a similar Republican who voted against the Republican plan might have just taken a modest step toward electoral survival. [emphasis mine]

Again, we’re a long way from November 2018 and there’s a lot left to happen.  But it’s not at all unreasonable to think that last week’s vote really could help put the Republican House majority in jeopardy.

AHCA– what’s next?

The Senate, of course.  And how to make sense of that?  Still haven’t come across anything better than Jonathan Bernstein’s take from right after the House passed it:

The biggest questions now are about what will happen in the Senate. This is a “reconciliation” bill, which means it will be protected against filibusters and will need only a simple majority to pass. But it also means that only certain provisions (those that affect the federal budget) can be included. It’s entirely unclear what the Senate parliamentarian — an unelected official who singlehandedly makes major decisions on the reconciliation process — will allow, and what Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans will do if the parliamentarian turns what the House has done into Swiss cheese by stripping various provisions from it.

Nor is it clear that 52 Senate Republicans (with the support of Vice President Mike Pence to break ties) are enough to pass anything. To begin with, it seems likely Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski will oppose anything that retains the House bill’s hit on Planned Parenthood. Another half dozen or more Republican Senators have spoken against the measure’s cuts to Medicaid. And then Kentucky’s Rand Paul wanted a full Obamacare repeal, and it’s possible a handful of others (Ted Cruz of Texas? Mike Lee of Utah?) might join him in opposing the House bill (let alone anything modified to get the votes of Collins and Murkowski) as too weak.

It’s absolutely possible that Senate Republicans can figure out a way forward, but it should be at least as hard for them to get their version of the bill over the finish line than it was for House Republicans to do so. [emphases mine] It may be even harder at this stage of the process: Several members of the House said that they were counting on the Senate to modify things, but senators have less leeway to pass the buck in the same way.

Harder, but not impossible. If the Senate does pass something, and assuming the House isn’t willing to just rubber-stamp that version, then the two chambers would have to hammer things out in a conference committee. And the math is still extremely daunting: House Freedom Conference radicals simply want a bill that doesn’t appear to have 50 votes in the Senate…

My guess is that it’s still fairly unlikely that any version of this makes it into law. President Donald Trump is hosting a victory party at the White House for House Republicans today, and I still think their best strategy is to just pretend that they’ve killed off Obamacare for good, and then go on administering it.

But make no mistake about it: Something could very well pass. Even if very few House or Senate Republicans are excited by their bill and are fully aware of the electoral risk some of them are taking, politicians like to do what they promised, and they — as a group — promised to repeal and replace Obamacare. Many of them also remain individually more worried about being defeated in primaries if they take the blame for failure than they are about being defeated in general elections because they are blamed for voting for something unpopular. Only the latter can cost Republicans their congressional majorities. 

Also, Perry Bacon with a very nice analysis in 538 looking at the various competing concerns which will make this so difficult to get through the Senate.  Again, something certainly can, but it is far from a given.

Also, I’ll re-quote Bernstein:

And the math is still extremely daunting: House Freedom Conference radicals simply want a bill that doesn’t appear to have 50 votes in the Senate

So, first can 50 Senators actually agree on something?  And, if they can, will the Freedom Caucus vote for it?  Both are possible, but far, from an easy yes.

In fact, I think there’s a non-trivial possibility we could end up with something like we did on a health care bill from long ago– the 2001 Patients Bill of Rights.  The House passed a version.  The Senate passed a version.  But they could never pass a reconciled version that they both agreed upon.  Those, actual patients rights had to wait for the ACA.

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