TOPEKA — The four congressional representatives from Kansas — veterans Kevin Yoder and Lynn Jenkins, rookies Roger Marshall and Ron Estes — stood with House Republicans who narrowly leveraged votes to pass a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Years of indignant partisan statements, obligations to leadership as a subcommittee chairman and yearning to fit in with new GOP peers in Washington, D.C., made decisions of the foursome predictable. Capacity of Democrats in Kansas to exploit the vote in the 2018 election cycle is less clear.
Yoder, a favorite target of Beltway Democratic operatives, is expected to seek re-election in the Third District anchored by Johnson and Wyandotte counties. Jenkins, who represents Topeka and the Second District, is retiring from Congress. It is in these eastern Kansas districts that prognosticators, including Cook Political Report, weighed in following 217-213 passage of the repeal bill.
After Republicans sent this publicly unpopular legislation to the Senate, Cook Political Report changed its ratings in 20 House districts. Cook analysts downgraded Yoder’s Third District from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.” At the same time, the open Jenkins seat was diminished from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican.”
Jenkins voted approximately 50 times during the administration of President Barack Obama to delete the ACA. After finally taking a meaningful vote on repeal, which would curtail or eliminate benefits millions of Americans embraced since 2010, she acknowledged the House bill was “not perfect.”
The legislation would allow insurers to charge older customers five times what they assess younger customers, end federal payments to states expanding eligibility for Medicaid, double the amount families can contribute to pre-tax health savings accounts and enable states to weaken ACA definitions of essential health benefits such as maternity, mental health and prescription drugs.
Kansas Republican insiders confidently proclaim they will sustain a long victory streak in federal elections, but those campaigns no longer will be cake walks despite the built-in GOP advantage in voter registration.
The shift highlighted by Cook appeals to soon-to-be official U.S. House candidate Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat who carried the Second District by 7 points in his race for governor two years ago against Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
It also excites Democrats such as Jay Sidie, who fell to Yoder last year in the Fourth District. Yoder was forced to work hard for a 51 percent to 41 percent victory over Sidie in a district won by Hillary Clinton 47 percent to 46 percent against Trump. Sidie said he intends to run in 2018.
“The verdict is in,” said Rachel Irwin, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The House Republicans’ repeal and ripoff bill will haunt Kevin Yoder and House Republicans through Election Day.”
On the other hand, Yoder is expected to receive a political boost for his vote to dump the ACA. The American Action Network, a dark money group, announced a $2 million advertising blitz on behalf of Yoder and 20 other vulnerable Republican members who voted for repeal.
Following the vote, Yoder promised the House bill would provide Kansans with “more competition, lower premiums and greater access to care in the future.”
Yoder addressed allegations the American Health Care Act adopted by the House buckled to insurance industry demands for a law that shredded iron-clad Obamacare provisions preventing people with pre-existing conditions from being shunned by insurers. A law dramatically escalating the cost of health insurance for individuals with a history of illness or injury is potentially radioactive for politicians, and Yoder knows it.
“No one with pre-existing conditions can or will be denied affordable coverage under the AHCA now or ever,” Yoder said.