As he puzzles together the hows and whys of Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, and the down-ticket defeats in the recent election, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth says he’s certain of two things: Obamacare will not be repealed – not right away anyhow – and the Democratic Party needs new leadership.
“I think it’s virtually impossible for him [Trump] to dismantle the Affordable Care Act – virtually impossible,” Yarmuth, a Democrat representing the Kentucky 3rd Congressional District, which includes Louisville Metro, told a 70-plus audience Sunday, November 13, at Temple Shalom.
Despite the 67 votes Republicans in Congress have held to repeal the ACA, Yarmuth said they have nothing with which to replace it.
“There are only two options to the Affordable Care Act, one is to go back where we were, which means you have 50 million uninsured Americans, which means you have 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year, which means you have 800,000 bankruptcies a year because of health care costs, which means insurance companies dictate who lives and dies. You can go back or you can go to single pay. There are no other options.
“Every time I have said that, in public forums and in hearings, they [Republicans] have never challenged me,” Yarmuth continued. “That’s why they haven’t done it.”
Then there are other obstacles.
“If they repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Treasury loses a trillion dollars in revenue over 10 years through a lot of fees and taxes in the Affordable Care Act, which would go away,” Yarmuth said. “Then when you figure out what you’re going to replace it with, there’s going to be a cost associated with that (vouchers, subsidies), whatever it is …. So they would have to go back to Congress and ask a Republican Congress to raise taxes. That is not going to happen.”
Yarmuth who was just elected to a sixth term, was speaking at the monthly Temple Shalom Men’s Club breakfast. He used the appearance to call for new Democratic leadership in the House, saying he respects House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), but that the electoral drubbing the Democrats took calls for new blood.
“I love Nancy Pelosi and I love Steny Hoyer, and Jim Clyburn (D-SC) [assistant Democratic leader] is one of my best friends, but we can’t have as the face of our party a 76-year-old San Francisco liberal woman, and we can’t have a 76-year-old Marylander who is the epitome of big government because he represents all the federal employees. That’s not the face we need.
“And it’s much more significant now,” he added, “because we don’t have a president who is the natural voice of our party, so whoever is going to be the minority leader of House and the minority leader of the Senate, those are going to be the faces people see, and if they see coastal liberals and nobody else, then that’s the way we are going to continue to be defined.”
He said the Democratic Party faces significant challenges as it rebuilds and prepares to govern again eventually.
“By and large, we are a coastal party, we are a party of minorities. We have lost our historic foundation, which is white working class Americans,” Yarmuth said. “We have not responded to the changes in both the world and in politics in the way that we should.”
Clinton lost for many reasons, he said, her emails, the rise of health insurance premiums, the letters from FBI Director James Comey, and her own flaws as a candidate.
But the problems she and the party encountered run even deeper.
“There’s a rural-urban divide in this country, and that’s the real divide in the country, it’s not conservative-liberal or Republican-Democrat,” Yarmuth said. Additionally, “social media is changing the way politics are run and we Democrats are woefully deficient in the social media; we have no social media strategy.”
“If I shoulder any blame,” Yarmuth added, “I’ll accept this: I was one of many super delegates who went along with Hillary’s anointment as the nominee and I did it for a couple reasons, one is the alternative was Bernie Sanders who I didn’t think had any chance of winning.”
Yarmuth also pegged the relentless efforts by Republicans to “discredit” the national media as another reason for the Democrats’ poor showing.
“If the legitimate media – mainstream media – don’t have credibility, then anything has credibility,” Yarmuth said. “You can say anything and, in many people’s minds, it has the same veracity as what you might read in The New York Times.”
To recover, he said the Democrats must not only have a plan to help people in the nation’s heartland and rustbelt, it must listen to them and show that they care.
“Our biggest problem is that we never talk in empathetic terms to people; we never let them know that we feel what they’re going through,” Yarmuth said. “We come up with polices to address the problems they have and say ‘trust in us; here’s what we’re going to do for you.’ But we never indicate to them that we understand what their lives are like, that we care about that, that we’re sympathetic.”
The party must also mend fences with the working class.
“We need to communicate with union members every day, not just when we want them to walk precincts for us and when we want money from them, but every day. We ought to make them part of our communications team …. When we were doing the Affordable Care Act … I said we need to use social media, reaching out to union members and other constituents … on a daily basis, talking to them about what this means to them.”
Yarmuth, who stands to become the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said that position, if he gets it, could give him a modicum of power.
“It basically elevates me in terms of being able to argue priorities in the national media. That would make the next two years worth my time.”