Republicans Think They Can Win Back The House By Focusing On The Deficit And Health Care

Despite having utterly mishandled both areas when they actually held power, Republicans think they can win back the House of Representatives by focusing on the budget deficit and health care reform.

Bloomberg News is reporting that House Republicans seeking to win back a majority that they lost in the 2018 midterm elections plan to run on reducing spending and the budget deficit:

House Republicans plan to run on tried-and-true issues in 2020: repealing Obamacare and reducing the national debt, even though the GOP fell short of both goals the last time the party had full control of Washington.

“The first thing we would do is make sure our debt is taken care of,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters during a meeting of party members in Baltimore to work on their election-year agenda.

This week, the annual budget deficit reached $1 trillion under President Donald Trump’s watch. When Republicans controlled the House, Senate and White House last year, they enacted tax cuts estimated to add $1.5 trillion in deficits over 10 years.

Republicans plan to reduce the debt by repealing Obamacare, McCarthy said, a day after Democratic presidential candidates vowed to greatly expand government’s role in health care during their third debate.

Democrats view health care and the defense of Obamacare as the key issue that sealed their takeover of the House in the 2018 election.

In 2017, “no” votes by GOP Senators John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski blocked Republicans’ attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“We were one vote short of entitlement reform. We will have the opportunity with a Republican Senate and President Trump to change it once and for all and make America stronger,” McCarthy said Friday.

“We want to protect pre-existing conditions. We want to lower the cost of health care while raising quality overall,” McCarthy said. “Democrats are offering Medicare for All. They want to end health care” for millions of Americans who currently have coverage.

The irony and cynicism in all of this couldn’t be more apparent. As I noted just last week, the Federal Budget Deficit will be more than a trillion dollars for the first time since the years immediately after the Great Recession. Crossing this line hardly comes as a surprise given the fact we’ve been on this course since Republicans took control of the House, Senate, and Presidency after the 2016 election. When the final budget deal for Fiscal Year 2019 was put forward in mid-February of last year, for example, it included massive spending increases in almost every budget category and busted through the controls that had been put in place during the Obama Administration. As The New York Times noted at the time, this effectively means that Republicans have learned to love the deficits and debt they once claimed to abhor. This is the same Republican Party, which had spent the Obama years lecturing Washington about spending and deficits. In the Trump Era. that same party has become the party of deficits and debt. By April of last year, the Congressional Budget Office had officially forecast that we’d be seeing trillion dollars deficits by the end of Fiscal Year 2019 and just a few months later, the national debt crossed a new benchmark and was north of $21 trillion. According to the latest figures, the national debt, which stood at $19.9 trillion on the day President Trump took office, now stands at $22.6 trillion. (Source)

The situation is much the same when it comes to health care reform, an area in which the President and his party utterly failed very early in the Trump Administration. It began when the House of Representatives, after some difficulties in March of last year,  passed the American Health Care Act with barely a vote to spare. At that point, the battle shifted to the Senate, which spent three months trying to pass a bill with even just 51 votes (or 50 votes plus the Vice-President’s tie-breaking vote.) From the start it was clear that the House bill had no chance of passing in the Senate, so Senate Republicans put forward their alternative, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. As with the AHCA, the BCRA was drafted behind closed doors without either committee hearings or public debate, and of course no input from Democrats. Almost immediately, the BCRA ran into roadblocks. First, Mitch McConnell’s plan to vote on the bill before the July 4th recess collapsed when the Congressional Budget Office released a devasting score for the bill. After that happened, the BCRA quickly lost support and was pulled from the floor before voting began. After the recess, Senate Republicans put forward a revised plan that also received a bad CBO score and quickly came under fire. When it became obvious that this bill would also fail to get even the fifty votes required to pass the bill, McConnell proposed yet another plan that would repeal the Affordable Care Act without actually replacing it with anything, but that plan ended up falling apart after only eighteen hours. Undaunted, the Senate still refused to give up and decided to go forward even though it was unclear which direction they were heading. Ultimately, the Senate ended up voting on something they called “Skinny Repeal,” which repealed only parts of the PPACA such as the individual and employer mandates and some other regulations. Bizarrely, though, even Senators who voted for that bill said they never intended for it to become law. Instead, they said it would be the basis to force a conference committee with the House in an effort to put together a bill that could get through both bodies. That effort, though, came to an end when McCain, who had just been diagnosed with cancer, returned to the Senate to deliver a late-night thumbs down that sealed the bill’s fate. Finally, after first declaring that there would be no more efforts to pass a health care bill, Senate Republicans made one last effort with a bill proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, but that too failed to pass even under that bodies relaxed reconciliation rules which avoid the need for a sixty-vote majority in order to invoke cloture and pass a bill. Since then, the Republicans have basically given up on any effort to pass a health care reform bill.

At the same time, Republicans at the state level have been involved in litigation designed to undermine the Affordable Care Act that could serve to hurt them at the ballot box next year. The Trump Administration has joined in that litigation by declining to defend the law in court. In December of last year, a Federal District Court Judge sided with the states and struck the law own and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel hearing the appeal in July appeared skeptical of the Constitutionality of the law without the viability of the mandate tax penalty to support it. As I noted shortly thereafter, a ruling from the Court of Appeals striking down the law could end up backfiring on Republicans politically given the renewed popularity of the law generally and of individual provisions such as the mandate for coverage of pre-existing conditions.

Given this history on both of these issues, the fact that House Republicans believe that they can run a credible campaign to regain the House of Representatives is laughably absurd. They have revealed by their own actions, and failures to act, that they cannot credibly deliver in either of these areas. The fact that they’d base their campaign on them is nothing short of pure chutzpah.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Congress, Deficit and Debt, Economics and Business, Health, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. wr says:

    And what’s their message going to be? “We’re for the deficit and against health care.”

  2. Moosebreath says:


    “And what’s their message going to be?”

    Who knew balancing a budget could be even harder than reforming health care?

  3. Kylopod says:

    Winning back the House in 2020 would be virtually unprecedented. They’d need a net gain of at least 18 seats. The last time the party in the White House made that big a gain during a presidential year was LBJ’s 1964 landslide. Not even Nixon or Reagan managed it during their landslide reelections.

    There’s just one possible precedent: 1948, when Dems gained over 60 seats, regaining both chambers they’d lost two years earlier, despite the fact that Truman’s electoral victory was relatively narrow.

    The problem for Republicans now is that there aren’t that many seats held by Democrats in districts that Trump won in 2016. The 2018 Democratic gains were more of an expansion into Clinton country than a takeover of Trump country.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    They won’t win back the house. But running on government expenditures and the deficit is Right-wing Racism 101. They’ll run against black people and brown people getting benefits. That’s all that has ever been behind Republican prattle on deficits and government expenditures. When a Republican says ‘deficit’ he means ‘ni**ers getting stuff.’

  5. Kathy says:

    By previously displayed reasoning on the part of the GOP, what will balance the budget, eliminate the debt, and increase wages substantially, is a negative tax on business. A small one. That is, for every dollar in income a business makes, the government will give them 5 cents. That’s a low, low, 5% rate, which will increase revenue 3,000% and rive economic growth so high, you’ll need a satellite to find it.

  6. Kit says:

    So now the Republican strategy is to run against themselves… A vote for me is a vote against everything I stand for, as well as a vote against those damn liberals.

  7. al Ameda says:

    if Democrats weren’t so lousy at messaging and response – you know, politics – I would be laughing at the notion that a Republican focus on; (1) deficit (their own making) and (2) health care (reducing access for undeserving people and coverage for women’s reproductive health), is seen as a positive by their strategists.

    Democrats are going have to get better at this ‘politics’ stuff.

  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Cutting spending (read – SS and Medicare) to pay for their tax cuts to the rich? And the deficit they have exploded? Yeah…no one will figure out how to run against that bullshit.
    Health care? They’ve taken it away from millions, and haven’t produced a real plan in decades – since they invented Obamacare. You think they are going to now?
    Kevin McCarthy is a clown who is intimately familiar with the taste of Trumps sphincter. He should not be taken seriously as a human being.
    Remind me again…how many Republicans have abandoned this sinking ship?

  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Cokie Roberts has passed.
    A true pioneer among women in political journalism.
    May she RIP.

  10. Jen says:

    These people are utterly shameless. This is a pretty straightforward playbook. Democrats are doing well in polling so they’re going to use the go-to of “we can’t afford them! Tax & spend! We already have a deficit, they’ll make it worse!”

    The health care play? I can’t even with that one, but Democrats need to watch out because it’s a cynically smart move. With Warren, Sanders, and to a lesser extent Harris on the Medicare for All bandwagon, the overarching narrative will be: Obamacare was bad & expensive, now they are going to take away your insurer and force you onto a government-run plan. (That, not so incidentally, would be a correct assessment of mandatory Medicare for all, which has zero chance of becoming law overnight.) For seniors, the message will be that adding all of these new people onto Medicare will break the system and Medicare will become awful and they won’t get the care they need, etc.

    Don’t write this stuff off as ridiculous, this is exactly the type of playbook that works with their voters and a substantial portion of the electorate that is Republican-leaning Independents.

  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    Why am I not surprised? This has been the standard rethug playbook since Reagan.

  12. Fortunato says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Y’all don’t quote me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, “Ni–er, ni–er, ni–er.” By 1968 you can’t say “ni–er”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Ni–er, ni–er.”

    July 8, 1981 – Lee Atwater, in a taped conversation discussing the Republican Southern Strategy originally crafted by Harry Dent in 1968.
    Atwater was of course a key advisor to Ronald Reagan, the campaign manager (working closely with Roger Ailes) for George H. W. Bush, and Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

    As H.W.’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater was quoted as saying:
    “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”

    Same as it ever was.
    Same as it ever was.

  13. Fortunato says:

    this is exactly the type of playbook that works with their voters

    Which is truly the disease that threatens our nation. Isn’t it.
    Just as the Founding Fathers feared – an uninformed, dim-witted electorate.

    On this day, September 17, 1787 –
    ..upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

  14. gVOR08 says:

    I wouldn’t worry much about the electoral effectiveness of running on healthcare and the deficit. They’re lying. They’ll mention that stuff (lying all the way) but they’ll run on race, abortion, and guns. Again. And what would you have them do, Doug, run on their actual platform of cutting taxes for rich people and destroying the environment?

  15. Kari Q says:


    If tax cuts increase revenue, then eliminating taxes would make revenue infinite.

  16. gVOR08 says:


    Just as the Founding Fathers feared – an uninformed, dim-witted electorate.

    My understanding was that the founders didn’t fear “the mob” per se. What they feared was cynical and ambitious elites stirring up the mob for their own purposes. They may not have anticipated parties, but they did anticipate Republicans.

  17. reid says:

    This is obviously laughable, but then I remember how large swaths of the population have drunk the kool-aid and are happy and eager to be BSed.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    I’m afraid that the Republican Party has discovered the Achilles Heel of the U.S. populace: for a lot of people it’s not necessary that you carry out your promises; only that you make them. Added to, of course, that you can always complain that the reason you weren’t able to carry out your promises because of Those Guys Over There. Amazing how many gullible people fall for this excuse.

    (The U.K. is going through its own version of this as present. The lack of an obvious track to Brexit and the lack of planning on the part of the U.K. government to deal with the consequences is now being blamed on “remoaners” and “traitors”, rather than the pig-headed-ness and lack of knowledge of groups such as the DUP, ERG, and almost every other British politician making noises about the EU. Just because the other side doesn’t immediately roll over and give you what you want doesn’t mean that they are not “reasonably negotiating” with you, or that they are “bullying” you.

    What the Brits are complaining about is that they are being treated by the EU the same way that the U.K. expects to treat everyone else. )

  19. steve says:

    Republicans only worry about the deficit when a Dem is POTUS. Are they assuming Trump will lose?


  20. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Remind me again…how many Republicans have abandoned this sinking ship?

    Mark down another one…Paul Cook (R-CA) is retiring.

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @al Ameda:

    Democrats are going have to get better at this ‘politics’ stuff.

    DEMs just can’t please some people. Even when they win, they did it all wrong.

  22. Jen says:

    On the health care issue, an interesting opinion piece in the NYT. Our system does not work equally effectively for everyone who has insurance (and certainly doesn’t for those who are uninsured or under-insured). But still, if you read the comments, people are scared about the idea of losing their employer coverage under a Medicare for all system. Democrats should read and be wary of pushing too hard for that as the solution.

  23. al Ameda says:

    @Kari Q:

    If tax cuts increase revenue, then eliminating taxes would make revenue infinite.

    Exactly. I’ve run a line – “so, hypothetically, a tax rate of zero percent would eliminate the deficit completely” – by my very conservative family members. They give me that ‘ you KNOW that’s not what we mean’ look.

  24. Gromitt Gunn says:


    In every other developed economy, “pre-existing conditions” is just “your health history.”

  25. Fortunato says:

    Great point and, no doubt, largely correct.
    Although, I think both positions can find support in the writings of our founders –

    “The liberal appropriations made by the Legislature of Kentucky for a general system of Education cannot be too much applauded. A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

    – James Madison to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822 in a letter advocating the use of publicly financed education to increase political knowledge.

  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kari Q: I’ve met people who believe that cutting taxes to zero creates infinite growth. Really scary.

  27. Mister Bluster says:

    @Fortunato:..On this day, September 17, 1787

    Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
    Docr. FRANKLIN
    On the whole, Sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.-

    The good doctor did not get his wish…

    Whilst the last members were signing it Doctr. FRANKLIN looking towards the Presidents Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicisitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.
    The Constitution being signed by all the members except Mr. Randolph, Mr. Mason, and Mr. Gerry who declined giving it the sanction of their names, the Convention dissolved itself by an Adjournment sine die-

  28. Jen says:

    Sigh. Two down-votes for pointing out that Republicans will run with the worst possible framing of Medicare for all–that everyone goes onto the same system, meaning you’d be off of your employer-provided insurance.

    Right now in New Hampshire, we are getting bombarded with advertising casting Sen. Shaheen’s bill that would ban “surprise billing”–the noxious and inexcusable practice of charging patients “out of network” rates in situations where they are totally unaware that they are even using out-of-network doctors, such as in emergency situations.

    If this minor, common-sense bill is generating this much spending and fear-mongering, take a beat and think about how the entire system will respond to a candidate proposing an end to all of it. It’s entirely possible that the ad spend by the industry against a candidate promising Medicare for all would utterly dwarf what we saw opposing the ACA. The insurance industry is massive, well-funded, and employs thousands of Americans. They will fight M4All tooth and nail, and will spend billions of dollars in nasty, misleading advertising.


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