The next four years will prove challenging for Republican lawmakers who must project, at the very least, an appearance of supporting President-elect Trump and his policies while being careful not to alienate moderate constituents. As the head honcho on Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan will arguably bear the heaviest of this burden. On Thursday evening, Ryan's balancing act was on full display at a CNN Town Hall event, where he was confronted on issues like the Affordable Care Act repeal, reproductive rights, and immigration policy.
Ryan heard personal anecdotes from the people directly affected by his party's policies, but the most powerful moment at the event was an exchange between a cancer patient who credits Obamacare with saving his life and Ryan. Jeff Jeans, a small-business owner and lifelong Republican who worked on the Reagan and Bush campaigns, told Ryan that he would not be alive if not for the ACA, which he was initially against.
"Just like you, I was opposed to the Affordable Care Act. When it was passed, I told my wife, 'We would close our business before I comply with this law," he told Ryan. "Then, at 49, I was given six weeks to live with a very curable type of cancer. ... Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I'm standing here today alive. Being both a small-business person and someone with preexisting conditions, I rely on the Affordable Care Act to be able to purchase my own insurance. Why would you repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement?"
Ryan denied that they were repealing Obamacare without a replacement. "We want to replace it with something better," Ryan said, reiterating the GOP's stance about repealing and replacing the health care law. President-elect Trump said at his long-awaited press conference this week that "repeal and replace" will happen "essentially simultaneously," a point that Ryan later echoed.
Although Republicans are dead-set on repealing the ACA — and have already begun the first steps to do so — they have yet to come up with a replacement plan for it. As things currently stand, repealing the ACA will cause chaos in the health care industry, and strip insurance from senior citizens, young adults, people with pre-existing conditions, and women, among others. It will also give 400 of America's richest families a tax cut amounting to an average of $7 million each.
While far from perfect, Obamacare transformed the problematic American health care industry as well as benefited millions of Americans. President Obama has said that he would "publicly support" its repeal if Republicans can come up with a better plan, which they have yet to do. For people like Jeans whom the ACA helped, its repeal is a matter of life and death.
He told Ryan:
I want to thank President Obama from the bottom of my heart because I would be dead if it weren't for him.
Cover image via Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock, Inc.