The voters who elected Republicans to Washington on a promise to root out Obamacare are growing increasingly disillusioned.
In Appalachian mountain towns that increasingly cater to well-heeled tourists and here in Canton, North Carolina, a blue-collar town in the shadow of a giant paper mill, are voters who have been staunch supporters of the Republican Party’s push to repeal the 2010 health care law, believing that requiring Americans to obtain insurance is government overreach.
Now, as Senate Republicans return to Washington this week still shy of the votes to make it happen, those people who say they’ve come through for the party are watching with mounting disbelief.
“They told us, ‘We have to get the House, we have to get the Senate before we can get things done,’” said Danny Gray, 51, a Canton contractor and high school football coach who criticized his party even as he stood dripping wet after a plunge in a dunking booth at a town fair. “We got them the House, we got them the Senate and even the White House and they still can’t get it done? They don’t take responsibility for anything.”
The targets of his disdain include House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose chamber managed to pass a bill after an initial fumble, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who scrapped the Senate bill before the Fourth of July congressional recess and has since suggested Republicans may need to work with Democrats on a fix if their own efforts fall short.
We sent Trump there to rattle their cages and it’s ridiculous it’s not happening.
Katherine Allen, 65-year-old N.C. resident
“If we leave Ryan and McConnell in charge, nothing’s going to get done,” said Gray. “They won seats because they told us they’d repeal Obamacare. Look at them now.”
True to the axiom that most people despise Congress but like their member of Congress, the exasperation stops short when it comes to the local congressman, House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows. Most voters praised Meadows for taking a hardline stand against an early version of the House legislation and seeing that it was pulled to the right.
“If we had 100 more of him, we’d be in good shape,” Gray said.
Fed up with what they see as timidity to take action in Washington, many voters in Meadows’ district say they had hoped Donald Trump’s election in November would mean congressional Republicans would start to deliver.
“We sent Trump there to rattle their cages and it’s ridiculous it’s not happening,” said Katherine Allen, 65, who lives near the Pisgah National Forest. “I understand some of the senators are worried, but didn’t they make a promise?”
Allen blames the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, for a scarcity of 40-hour-a-week jobs. Employers, she said, are worried about hiring people and providing insurance.
“My daughter is working two jobs and it’s a rat race,” Allen said. “Congress has got to start listening.”
Yet public polls show both House and Senate Republican health care plans are wildly unpopular with most Americans. Even Republican support drooped after a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate plan would lead to 22 million fewer insured people by 2026. It also found that coverage could become more expensive for many sicker, older and low-income Americans.
Trisha Hogan, 41, who works for the Transylvania County government outside Asheville, North Carolina, said she fears those numbers, but believes that the party still needs to stick to its word.
“Once you’ve created an entitlement, it’s difficult to take it away,” she said. “It’s going to be hurtful for some people and (members of Congress) realize that. I do feel for people, but they promised they’d fix the situation.”
Where some expected a quick rollback, Hogan has patience.
“Everyone is thinking with a Republican House, Senate and White House, we should be rocking and rolling,” she said. “But government is complicated. It just is.”
They told us they’d get it done. If they don’t, they should get the heck out.
Jeff Rogers, 55, Brevard resident
Failure risks further demoralizing the party’s base, feeding a belief that Washington has again fallen short. But it is too early to know whether the failure would motivate activists to consider primary challenges.
Democrats are facing their own pressure from the party’s progressive wing to embrace universal, government-funded health care for all. Matt Coffay, a grassroots organizer and former farmer who has said he plans to challenge Meadows, told interviewers that he supports a single-payer system.
Roseann Dorsch, 67, who is active with the local Transylvania County Republican Party, said she’d expect “extreme” disappointment with the party.
“But you hear ‘single-payer’ and that’s motivating against Democrats,” she said.
Trump has complicated lawmakers’ efforts with a series of conflicting messages, but few voters said they’d blame him for the legislation’s collapse.
“They told us they’d get it done. If they don’t, they should get the heck out,” said Jeff Rogers, 55, a Brevard auto parts store employee.
Still, even among the faithful there is worry. Only three states – Florida, California and Texas – had more people enrolled in the Affordable Care Act than North Carolina’s 549,000. About 44,000 are in Meadow’s district.
Among those relying on Obamacare: Larry Fowler’s former wife. Fowler, 56, who voted Republican in November, said he fears changes could leave his ex without coverage. His fears increased when Trump, whom he supports, tweeted that the Senate should first repeal the existing health care law and then come back and replace it.
“Do I cross the street with all those cars or do I look first?” Fowler said, comparing Trump’s suggestion to darting out in traffic. “They need to figure it out first. This could hurt a lot of people.”
Elizabeth Lewis, 28, who is studying early childhood education, says she feels similarly torn. She voted Republican despite worries that the party wants to uproot Obamacare. Trump, she said, is a different political figure who she believes will create jobs.
“It did worry me at first,” says Lewis, who currently receives Social Security disability insurance. “But I’m putting my faith in Mr. Trump.”